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Woody "Spider" Brown (1912-2008)

Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS covering the life and aloha of legendary surfer Woody Brown!

This fifth chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS: The 1940s, originated over a decade before his passing (in 2008), as a biography in The Surfer's Journal, Volume 5, Number 3, Fall 1996, pp. 94-107, with photos by Bud Browne.

Since that time, I've added the full text of what I originally wrote about Woody and combined it with other source material.

For some additional links about Woody, especially at the time of his passing, please visit also:

Woody was truly an incredible person. I will always cherish my good fortune to have spent time with him, talking and surfing. Enjoy his story and please spread the stoke that Woody embodied!

5. “Woody” Brown (1912-2008)

Woodbridge Parker Brown was born on January 5, 1912, into a wealthy family of Wall Street brokers, in New York City. “We were a Mayflower family, the New York 400, Social Register, all of that. My mother’s side traces back to some guy who came over with William the Conqueror [to the British Isles],” Woody told surfwriter Ben Marcus, adding, “It’s a bunch of baloney as far as I’m concerned.”[1]

Gliding, Betty and La Jolla

In his formative years, Woody fell in love with flying and left school at age 16 to seek it out. “When I was a kid, I ran away from home; quit school. I couldn’t stand school. I wanted to fly so bad.” Woody began hanging around Curtis Airfield, on Long Island, New York, where Charles Lindbergh was preparing for his historic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. 

“Yeah, I met him out there at the field. I helped him with his airplane before he took off for Paris. He was my hero.” At Curtis Airfield, Woody slept in hangars, cleaned oil leaks and did whatever he could to be around airplanes. He learned to fly but gave up mechanized flight when he discovered gliders.

“Soaring appealed to me because it’s like surfing or sailing. It’s working with nature; not ‘Brute Force and Bloody Ignorance.’ You know, you give something enough horse power and no matter what it is it’ll fly. Flying was brand new, then! Every time you took off it was an experiment. You didn’t know what was gonna happen. Every flight was a brand new flight. So, it was real exciting.”

“As a kid I was always worried about finding truth,” Woody told Ben Marcus. “I was unhappy. I didn’t understand why men were stealing from each other and killing each other and why the world had so many problems. The flying sort of gave me a break. I could get off the earth and way up in the clouds and sky, away from everything.”[2] As Woody put it, flying helped him “get away from the Earth... There is no crime or hatred when you fly. The truth is central to me.”[3]

The happiness Woody sought was found in his marriage to an independent-minded English woman named Elizabeth Sellon. “Betty felt the same as me,” Woody fondly recalled. “She hated cities and big-shot money deals and all that society stuff. We said, ‘Let’s get together and get out of here and go to California, where the men are men and the women love it.’ So we did.”[4]

Woody bought a glider for $25 and left New York with Betty Sellon and her daughter Jenny, California bound.[5]

“We left New York in ’35; went to La Jolla. I had a cousin out there and they got us a place to live. We stayed there in La Jolla for five years. The happiest time of my life!

“My first wife was just a wonderful person; one of those freak women who just, you know, lived for me; to take care of me. I didn’t realize it at the time. I took things for granted, you know?  I was just young, dumb and stupid. But, she was such a wonderful woman; whatever I wanted to do, ‘Oh, yeah! I’d love to do that, too!’ But, now I know damn well she didn’t want to.”[6]

They drove to California in 1935,[7] trailing Woody’s glider behind a Chrysler Airflow. Settling in La Jolla, Woody made just enough of an income to support his wife and his dedication to gliding. He was the first to launch a glider off the cliffs above La Jolla, convincing a local businessman to lease what became Torrey Flight Park, above Black’s Beach; what much later became the Torrey Pines Glider Port.[8]

Yet, gliding was not all fun and games. “I died two or three times already, you know. I had a mid-air crack-up in my glider and I lived through that; so did the other guy. Miracle as it was, it took his wing right off and smashed my whole nose. I thought, ‘Well, we’re just going down’ and then, suddenly, ‘Hey, man, you’re still flying!’ And I cleared the rubbish away and I’m still flying! So, there was a big, steep place on the mountain ahead. I just flew right up and just glided in. I took a tremendous chance cuz my tail surfaces were gone and I knew that any minute I’d lose control, eh? But, ‘Get down quick as you can, anyway you can.’ So, I lay right down on the fucking mountain like that. That was one time.[9]

“Then, in the desert, a kid brought over a very bad ship and we wouldn’t help him put it together. We told him, ‘No, no, no! This ship is not made to fly in these violent heat waves.’ ‘Thermals,’ we called ‘em. There’s an airforce base there now.

“So, he put it together and he towed and flew a little bit and we wouldn’t have anything to do with it. My ship was strong and so was my friend’s, Johnny Robinsons. And so, we were flying there and no trouble. We got the thermals and everything. But, he’d bought this new instrument called a variometer. In those days, we didn’t have any instruments hardly, see. But, they’d just made a new one and he bought it; cost hundreds of dollars. He was a rich guy, see.

“So, he said, ‘Won’t you come up with me just once to show me how to work this variometer?’ Cuz he was a greenhorn, see; didn’t know much about flying. So, like a damn fool, I said, ‘Alright, I’ll go up with you just once to help show you how to catch a thermal.’

“We got up there on the tow line and hit this thermal and I said, ‘OK, now! See, it’s lifting up your right wing, so you turn to the right! Now, turn to the right! Come on, turn right!’ And he said, ‘I’m sorry, Woody. I cannot. The wing’s come off.’ That’s all I can remember. We came down with no wings at all and we lived through it. It broke his legs in two or three places. His arms were all broke up and I had a brain concussion; broke my windpipe. There was some tubing I went up against and hit my head and I was out for eight hours.

“The only thing that saved us was that this glider was a terrible thing. It had a huge wing and it had wires going up top – called ‘cabane.’ Wires up on top to hold her on the ground and then flying wires, underneath, when it lifted, see, instead of struts. So, it had all that stuff. So, when the wings came off, this tremendous area of these wings were going around like helicopter blades, see? They kept flying around on the end of these wires and that kind of broke our fall, so we didn’t come down quite so hard, with no wings at all. That’s the only reason why we lived through it. So, that’s the second time.

“And, then there was that time out there with Dickie Cross...”[10]

About Woody’s near-death experiences, legendary Hawaiian surfer Rabbit Kekai declared: “That guy pancaked a glider... and walked away. Just like he [later] did at Waimea Bay. That guy is charmed.”[11]

Woody’s attention was drawn to surfing as soon as he arrived in La Jolla. “I started surfing right away,” Woody recalled. “I first made these solid redwood planks, you know. You’d stand in the shallow water and shove off just like a Boogie board [body board].

“But, then I began to go, ‘Gee, man, if you could just have a board that would hold you up; instead of, like, solid planks – you’d get an inch and a half plank from a lumber company and whittle it out. It wouldn’t hold you up at all, but when you got going on a wave, it was alright; couldn’t stand up, just lie down. I thought, ‘Gee, if I could float, then I could catch ‘em before they’re breaking. This way, I’m just catching white water.’ All the time, just standing in the shallow water. I thought, ‘Gee, then you could catch ‘em way out there and ride ‘em all the way in.’

“So, that’s when I made the hollow little plywood box; about 9 feet long and about 4 inches thick. It was great. I could paddle out there and catch the waves and ride.”[12] The year was 1936. Woody, using glider construction techniques, built his first surfboard out of plywood. It was hollow, 9 feet long, 4 inches thick and 22 inches wide and he had yet to hear about Tom Blake.

Don Okey, one of San Diego's first surfers and a high school student at the time, told a newspaper reporter years later that “Woody and Towney Cromwell began surfing La Jolla in 1936 on those boards Woody built. Surfing in San Diego really began then.”[13]

Woody recalled the first La Jolla surfers. “Towney Cromwell, Don Okey – they all started cuz’a me, you know. They saw me out there and wanted to surf, too. Towney wanted to build a board like mine, so I helped him.” Woody told me about Cromwell’s death. “He got killed in an airplane accident in Mexico. He was with Scripps oceanography; wonderful little kid; wonderful, fine little boy. They were gonna take off at an airport down there. There were thunderstorms and the pilot said they’d have to delay the flight because of the thunderstorms. Unfortunately, they had an official of the Mexican airlines on board and he said, ‘Aw, this is my airline and when I say “go,” you go!’ The pilot said, ‘Hey, it’s too dangerous to go.’

“‘Hey, you wanna get fired? Either you go or you get off the job.’ So, the pilot went anyway and they flew right into the side of a mountain; killed ‘em all, including poor Towney.

“It’s like that old joke where there’s two guys about to board a flight and one guy says, ‘Aw, you know, when it’s time for you to go, it’s time for you to go and there’s nothing you can do about it. Nobody can change it.’ The other guy says, ‘Yeah, that’s OK, that’s swell, but I don’t want to be there when it’s the pilot’s time to go.’”[14]

“Woody and a guy named Bob Barber discovered North Bird Rock and Windansea and other famous spots,” remembered Don Okey. “Woody was a real mild-mannered guy, he never talked about himself or bragged, but he had a lot of guts. He was riding big waves even before he got to Hawai‘i.”[15]

“I’ve seen 20 foot waves in California; Bird Rock, Windansea. The biggest place was down at PB – Pacific Beach; that point there where the sand beach comes up to that rock point, where La Jolla starts, you know? There’s houses there, now, but it used to be all bare. We built a shack there and you climbed down the cliffs to go out. They form out there off the rock point and then swing in. But, the point would make ‘em break way out and they’d have a nice shoulder going in. You’d pull out before you got to the regular break. I’ve seen that 20-25 feet. Being a point, I’m sure it was 25 feet.

“Another big wave spot was Dana Point. Every time I went to Dana Point, there were no waves, but I’m sure [Lorrin “Whitey”] Harrison got ‘em that size.”

“I used to like Bird Rock,” Woody recalled, “because there was a peak out there; there was a coral head. These swells would come in and pucker up and break there and then it was deep water all around. So, you could ride it in and it would quit and you’re in deep water. So, you paddle back again. That was kind of nice. If you lost your board, it didn’t matter, the board would just float around in deep water. That I like. That was good. I didn’t want to lose my board. My hollow board out of plywood, it would get smashed if it hit the reef like at Windansea.”

After his first hollow construction, Woody, “built a better one. It was still a plywood box, but not quite so thick and a little wider and 10 feet long. It had a nice vee bottom and a little, small skeg on, which was probably one of the very first in the world,” Woody told me, crediting Tom Blake with the first fin in 1935. Woody – still not knowing about Tom’s innovations of the hollow board and skeg – made his first surfboard keel, “about ‘36 or ‘37, somewhere in there; about the same time. But, I didn’t know anything about him and his experiments with adding fins to surfboards. See, we were all separated out. I was in San Diego and he was in L.A., way up there.”

Thinking back on how this second “plywood box responded in the surf, Woody exclaimed, “It was just like these modern kids’ boards, now! I’m amazed, you know. Don Okey wrote to me from California and said, ‘You know, Woody, that old board you had, it was a wonderful board. It was so good, I feel we should make a duplicate because I think it was a forerunner of the boards, today.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna make another one.’ He asked me for the drawings. I sent him what I could remember and he built one. When I went over there [in 1993], he had one built! Exactly the same. And I rode it! And, you know, it was just like these boards, today. You don’t have to use your foot, you just lean and turn it like that! And, boards in those days, aw, you couldn’t do that. It rode really good! And, yet, that was way back in ‘36! Amazing, just amazing.”[16]

“I always made my boards to be the fastest board in the world, because I put my aerodynamics into the understanding of the design, eh? Same thing, the air or the water; more or less. So, I made my boards faster and faster. Finally, I even ground them down and polished them with jeweler’s rouge and everything; polished the surface. Oh, that made a big difference. Of course, now they’re all finished that way. The commercial board is all finished off nice and smooth.”

I asked Woody when he recalled the first balsa boards arriving on the scene. “Oh, I think it was about ‘40, about the time just before I left La Jolla. The boards were big Swastika boards; big wide square tails; slide ass, no skegs. Skegs were just starting.

Of the partial balsa wood boards, “I remember in La Jolla,” Woody said, “some of the boys brought ‘em down from up in L.A. They were balsa/redwood; redwood off the side, balsa in the middle; heavy as hell; 60 pounds. I had this little hollow board and it only weighed 12 pounds, so I could maneuver around these guys. They could hardly turn those big hairy things before I’d change direction without even putting my foot in. In the old days, you had to put your foot in the water in order to turn.”[17]

“Those five years in La Jolla were the only joy I’ve ever had in my life,” Woody told Ben Marcus.[18] “My wife got pregnant and was expected to deliver around the same time I was supposed to compete in a big glider meet in Texas. I told my wife I’d stay with her, but she told me to go.” Woody admitted to me, “I didn’t want to go to the glider meet, but she was such a wonderful woman, she said, ‘Don’t be stupid! There’s nothing you can do here.’ Oh, I know – now I know – she would have loved to have me there. But, at the time, she said, ‘No, honey. I don’t need you here. You go. You’ve gotta go. It’s important because everybody’s expecting you to be there. You’re the top man! They all want to compete with you!’ And she talked me into it, bless her little heart. And, so I went.”

In Texas, in 1939, Woody flew his Thunderbird 263 miles to national and world gliding records for altitude, distance, maximum time aloft and goal flight. As a result, he even received a telegram of congratulations from then-President Herbert Hoover.[19]

“They all laughed at me at the [Wichita Falls, Texas] airport,” Woody told me. “Yeah, when they asked, ‘Well, where ya going? Where’s your destination?’ I said, ‘Oh, Wichita, Kansas.’ Three states away! You see, nobody had even gone across one state. All the airplane guys laughed. ‘Ho, ho, ho! It takes us all day to go over there. You’re going in that?!’ But, boy, when I came back, there wasn’t a sound. Nobody said anything. They shut up, boy! 263 miles. That was a world record.”[20]

“When he landed [back] in Texas,” wrote world champion surfer Nat Young, “he was given a hero’s welcome, inundated with telegrams, and paraded through the streets of Wichita Falls with a police escort and a brass band.”[21] Job offers for flying of all kinds also came his way. “Oh, boy, I could have had anything I wanted,” he told me. However, Woody was more concerned about his wife. “The day after I got back from Texas, Betty went into labor. Thank goodness I was there.” Even so, the woman he loved so much and who loved him so much died after giving birth to their son.[22]

Woody told me that they had originally been fearful of having children, “Because American women have the highest death rate of childbirth than any nation in the world. So, I was kinda scared and said, ‘Nah! Honey, you don’t want to take the chance.’ But, she said, ‘Look, I had one before.’ She was married before; had a cute little girl when I married her [Jenny]. She said, ‘When I had Jennifer, the doctor told me, ‘You should have plenty of children, it’s so easy for you; you can have a lot of children.’

“So, when she told me that, what could I say? ‘OK, honey.’ So, that’s how we had a little boy. But, she died. Some organ came out and the dumb doctor didn’t realize it. They gave her transfusions and ice to stop the bleeding. Finally the doctor called a specialist and he came down and he found the organ that had come out and he put it back in again and the bleeding stopped. But, it was just too late. Her heart couldn’t take any more. Her heart gave out.

“And, boy, I just cracked up,” he told me as he had told others. “You know, I just couldn’t take it cuz we were so happily married. It’s the only happiness I’ve had in my life was the five years with Betty in La Jolla.”[23]

Seeing Woody, his energy, his optimistic spirit, his feelings of love for people around him, I had a hard time seeing this man only happy for five years out of his life. Perhaps he exaggerated, but certainly there can be no denying that he loved his first wife to an extraordinary length.

Hot Curls

“Our boy [Jeffrey] lived but I couldn’t take care of him. I couldn’t take care of myself,” Woody told Ben Marcus.[24] “I couldn’t sleep; quit flying; quit everything,” Woody told me. “I just started bumming around the world. I was dyin’. I told the Lord: ‘I can’t take it anymore.’ So, he goes: ‘Why don’t you go to Tahiti? You’ve always wanted to.’ You know, we always hear about the magic of ‘the South Seas.’ Next day, I was on the boat. I got my passport and everything. I left my car, the garage, my home, glider, everything. I don’t know what happened to them. I just walked out and left everything. When you’re off your rocker that way, you know, you don’t know what you’re doing.”[25]

“So, I came over to Hawai‘i and started over again. But, it took awhile,” Woody admitted. He never made it to his original destination of Tahiti. Instead, he got virtually stranded on O‘ahu in September 1940, just before the United States entered World War II. “Yeah, I was on my way, but I couldn’t get out of the country. During the war, they wouldn’t give you a visa to leave the country. You couldn’t get a passport. So, I stayed here, in the Hawaiian Islands.

“Surfing saved my life because I’d go out all day; Waikiki. I’d just go out on my board in the morning and sit out there all day long and surf. Lunch time, I’d dive down and get seaweed off the bottom to eat and just stay there ‘till late evening; sunset. Then, I’d go in and I’d be able to sleep a little cuz I was so damn tired from being in the sun and surfing all day. And, I survived!”

Surfers even that far back had somewhat of a bad rap. “You see,” Woody told me, “when I first surfed and came over here, surfing was looked down upon. ‘Oh, you surfing bum!’ or ‘Don’t have anything to do with him, he’s a surfing bum.’

“The missionaries were the ones that told the Hawaiians, ‘Oh, that’s just horrible, you’re just wasting your time on that sort of thing.’ Terrible thing, you know. It kind of killed the spirit of the Hawaiian people, just like missionaries killed the spirit in everything they did; took away all their customs, eh?

“Yet, I laugh. The Hawaiians should have sent missionaries to the Mainland, instead of missionaries coming over here; because, they understood Christ better than the ‘religious’ people do! Cuz, they had love for every body. They loved everybody! But, the religious people said, ‘No, no. Just love the good people. All these other guys are going to hell.’ Well, of course, the Hawaiians knew nobody was going to hell. They loved everybody, which is the real Christ, you see.”[26]

“I didn’t know a soul,” Woody told Ben Marcus. “I got a bicycle and went all around O‘ahu and the different islands – Maui, the Big Island, Kaua‘i – just bumming around, lost. The old Hawaiians were such wonderful people. I’d stop in front of a house and ask if I could stay for the night and they’d say, ‘Oh sure! Sure! Come in!’ Then they’d treat me like a king and didn’t want me to go. I didn’t have any friends until I met Wally Froiseth and them.”[27] Woody told me one Hawaiian man even broke down in tears, begging Woody to stay.

“The missionaries changed the Hawaiian people,” Woody repeated. “They were beginning to be like us Mainlanders, when I first came over. They lost their beautiful ways. Like I told ya, when I went around the island, they cried when I left. If I go around, now, nobody’s gonna cry for me or ask me to stay there for nothin’; they pay for everything I’m doin’. No way, man! Hawaiian, haole, or anybody else.”[28]

Raised as an atheist, Woody didn’t fight in World War II because of his pacifist beliefs. “I was a conscientious objector during the war. I wouldn’t fight, no matter what. I told ‘em, ‘Look, I’ll go down there as a Red Cross. I’ll go right in the front lines.’ That didn’t worry me. ‘But, I ain’t gonna carry no gun and I’m gonna rescue any body, no matter whether he’s a German, an American or a Japanese. It doesn’t matter what he is. If he’s dying and needs help, I’m gonna help him.’ They didn’t like that. They put me ‘4-F cuz I had broken my neck flying and it bothered me all the time.”[29]

So, instead of fighting, Woody rode around most of the major Hawaiian Islands, befriended by the island people. “His first wife had passed away back in California,” recalled Rabbit Kekai for The Surfer’s Journal, “and when he first came over here he slept on the beach just like a typical haole guy. We sorta took a liking to him. He had a balsa board he used to knee paddle. He’d come out surfing with us guys and we had fun together. We sorta took him in under our wing. He had a lot of knowledge of board building... It was mostly Wally and Georgie [Downing] who befriended him.”[30]

“You know,” Woody told me of his earliest days surfing in the Hawaiian Islands, “in the old days, there was nobody out there, you were the only one. You were just hoping somebody would come out, cuz there were no surfers, then. So, you were all alone; lucky if you had one guy with you.

“So, you were always hoping – glad to see someone come out. ‘Oh, yeah! Come on, come on!’”

“It’s different, now, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied with a laugh. “You’re wishing they would go in!”[31]

When Woody settled back in near Honolulu, he was befriended mostly by what Wally called “The Empty Lot Boys” who had grown up to be associated as “Tavern guys” and the ones who had come up with the hot curl design.

“Yeah,” Wally said about befriending Woody, “because he was into surfing. Anybody who was that interested in surfing, you know, we’d take ‘em in; help ‘em out – that thing about helping each other. We were so enthused about the surf. We liked it so much, we just wanted everyone else to enjoy it.”[32]

Woody came to the Hawaiian Islands only three decades after “Surfing’s Revival” at Waikiki, on O‘ahu’s south shore. When he arrived, the action was still on the south shore. While it’s generally agreed that Hawaiians surfed the northern shores of their islands before the Twentieth Century,[33] ancient Hawaiian legends identify only a relatively small number of surf spots on the north shores of the islands. In contrast, locations on the southern shores were many. In ancient times the place to be was the Kona Coast, on the southwestern coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, which, for instance, has more named surf breaks than the entire island of O‘ahu.

When Woody arrived, surfing’s center was the Kala-hue-wehe surf at Waikiki,[34] known in the ancient days as Kou.[35] Yet, because of how the Hawaiian Islands catch seasonal swells, and because of the daring of a handful of big wave pioneers, it was North Shore and Makaha winter conditions that became synonymous with big wave surfing. And it was Woody Brown who helped lead the way.

Beginning the set of interviews I had with Woody, on Maui, I mentioned that both Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake – both of who Woody got to know – had said and written of Waikiki getting some size, upon occasion, and was there any truth to it?

“Oh, heck yeah. Oh yeah!” Woody exclaimed in his energetic style. “My goodness, it broke all the way across before I got there. These crazy guys I was telling you about,” he referred to the Hotcurl guys, “about four or five of ‘em – it was so big one year that it was closed out all the way down the coast, the big ocean liners couldn’t come in and out of Honolulu Harbor; way over 30 feet.

“So, these guys, they were so much guts, you know, they went up to Black Point. Well, at Black Point, there’s a rock cliff that goes right down to the water. It’s deep right up to the cliffs. So, the waves don’t break. The swells just come up and hit the cliff. So, what they did, they went out on the cliffs and when a set went by, they threw their boards off the cliffs and dove in and swam out. They got outside of everything that way and went around in front of Waikiki – oh, probably a mile out in the blue water. The waves were big and, of course, there’s no shoulder; one break all the way down to Honolulu Harbor. But, they didn’t care about that, they just shook hands and said, ‘Well, OK, in case we don’t see each other anymore...’ They shook hands and caught a wave or got the axe and swam in eventually. I tell ya, man, talk about guts! But, that’s brainless, ya know?”[36]

I asked him if he was talking about Wally Froiseth, John Kelly and Fran Heath.

“They were the main ones,” Woody agreed. “Let’s see, there was also Russ Takaki, a Japanese boy, and a Korean boy whose name I forget, but those were the main guys who would go out when it was that big. No one else would even think about going out. They found all the big places around O‘ahu, before I came in 1940,” Woody said with that twinkle he had. “They were going in the ‘30s, you see, and it seemed like the surf was the biggest in the ‘30s. Gradually, it’s been going down ever since. The world cycles change, you know. The surf comes bigger in different places in the world because of cycles. We haven’t been ‘civilized long enough to keep record of these cycles – maybe thousand year cycles, see. We don’t know.”

“Don’t you think it’s just that people get used to the size?” I asked him.

“No, oh no, no. They were much bigger. Like I say, the boats couldn’t come into Honolulu Harbor. Well, I’ve never seen that in the whole 50 years I’ve been here. And, yet, that was like that back in the ‘30s.

“And then, when I used to go Castle, it was 25 feet. It wouldn’t break unless it was over 10. Now, like my friend Wally Froiseth says, ‘Well, Woody, there’s no more of those big surfs.’ We just don’t get it like that anymore, for some reason. As I say, I think it’s cycles. There’s all kinds of cycles that we’re just now beginning to understand...”[37]

In 1940, the typical Hawaiian board was a redwood and balsa plank, 10-to-12 feet long, with wide tails and no skegs. I asked Woody what he was riding when he first came over to the Islands and met the Hot Curl guys. “Oh, I used to build my own there, of course. At first, we had the old balsa board. I’d left my plywood box in La Jolla. So, we rode old balsa/redwood boards. But, they were so big and heavy and clumsy. I remembered my wonderful little light one, so I started building something similar, out of balsa wood; lighter.

“By then, Wally and them had learned to shape ‘em so they wouldn’t slide ass. At first, you know, all the boards in the old days would slide ass in big waves. You’d go out in big waves and try to lay it in. You’d have to go down to the bottom, you know. If you tried to lay it in, in the curl, it’d flip right out.

“So, one day, Kelly and Wally came in after a big surf at Castle and the boards slid tail and all that and they couldn’t ride. He got mad and picked up his axe and said, ‘I’m gonna start chopping the board right here!’ He hit it and he whittled the tail down to about this big and said, ‘Now I got it.’ And, of course, it was a little vee tail at that point, after he whittled it down.

“He went out there and he could ride right up there in the curl and it wouldn’t slide tail at all. He had perfect control of it. So, then we started making a long board called Hot Curl boards, see. That was where the hot curl board came from, cuz you could ride right up in the curl, [track] right up in the top, instead of being way down at the bottom. You could ride right up where there’s more power, eh? To get across. That changed the whole of surfing, see. Now, you could go out in big waves and control it.”[38]

Even though Tom Blake had invented the fin, a.k.a skeg or keel, for surfboards in 1935, they had not been immediately adopted. In fact, fins on surfboards were not generally adopted until well over a decade after Blake and Woody first came up with theirs. Hot Curls filled the transition period by making it possible for surfers to hold their edge in the curl, without skegs.

“There were no skegs then,” Woody reiterated. “What’s his name [Blake] had [invented it], but nobody used it. He put it on his hollow boards [which he first invented, also], cuz the hollow boards would slide tail, too. But, Wally and those guys had no respect for the hollow board because it couldn’t ride big waves. I mean, it was dynamite in a big wave. You know, the wave would just take it away like it was nothing; no control at all; too big and clumsy and flat. It would slide all around. Of course, with a skeg, you could control it.

“Wally and them had small, little boards, about 9-10 feet, whereas the hollow boards were 12, 14, 15 feet. Duke’s [olo] board was 20 feet long! It weighed 200 pounds! I couldn’t even pick it up and carry it! Of course, it was wonderful for Castle. I mean, once that bugger dropped in, you know, and started going, you just hold on and try to stay with it. It would just take off!

“The hollow boards – they never used ‘em in surf over 8 feet. After that, they were uncontrollable. So, Wally and them had great disdain for them. They wouldn’t have anything to do with’em. So, they wouldn’t have anything to do with the keel [skeg] either. ‘What do you want a keel for? We don’t need a keel.’ Which was true! The Hot Curls didn’t need a keel.

“The Hot Curl was there when I got there. Then, I learned to whittle mine down like theirs, because mine would slide ass. You couldn’t ride big waves without the vee tail and I liked to ride the big waves, right? So, I had to whittle mine down. Wally helped me, he showed me. Then, I perfected it more and more. Because, I was interested in the speed. Wally wasn’t too interested in increased speed. He just liked to hang up there in the curl and get up there and just get chewed!

“Well, that’s fine, but when you got a long ways to go, you want to get across. I didn’t want to just go a little bit and then get the axe, eh? So, from my aerodynamics I knew that too steep a curl will suck air, will drag, eh? The more you flatten out the curve, the faster you can go. So, with my boards, I’d flatten out the belly and get it flatter ‘n flatter. Well, that made it stiff and hard to turn, but it made it fast.

“My super board was 12 feet long and weighed 80 pounds, but, boy, when that bugger would drop into the wave, man, you’d just have to hold on to stay with it. You’d take off so fast, which is great when you’ve got a half mile of curl to get across!”[39] Woody added that the board was, “made from chambered redwood. It had a 3-inch vee tail and thin rails made of spruce. The nose and tail were oak. It weighed 80 pounds, but that weight was good in the big surf.”[40]

“Woody’s one of the guys who really worked at changing the boards,” Wally confirmed. “I always credit him for increasing the speed of the boards, you know; to the point where we started to back off. They were just going too goddamn fast...”[41]

Woody also built boards for others, just like he had done in La Jolla. “I used to build surfboards to sell and I used to sell ‘em for $35 bucks, brand new. Isn’t that amazing? And, still make money. Solid redwood boards, know what I mean?”

“We used to have a fella by the name of Brownie [Barnes], an Hawaiian guy, and he used to have a redwood plank; a solid redwood plank. It was a nice, light piece of redwood. It was good! I couldn’t surf on it cuz I’m a knee paddler, see, but it held him up alright. He used to swear by that board. Even after we got balsa boards, he wouldn’t let go of that old redwood. He kept surfin’ it until he died!”[42]

Woody reiterated that the breaks off Waikiki could get big and recalled the “Father of Modern Surfing,” Duke Kahanamoku. “He was just about the only one of the old timers who would go out in those big waves. Yeah, other guys, other beach boys, like I told ya, when it got 10-12 foot, that was it. They wouldn’t go out any further. Duke would. He went out to Castle, even. He was probably the first one, except for the kings in the old days.

“You know something real interesting –” Woody’s voice dropped lower than was usual, which was not that often because the way he talked, you always felt upbeat. “I’ll tell ya: in the old days, only the kings were allowed to surf at Castle surf. Nobody could go out there except the kings. That was where the kings surfed. You know, when I used to ride my board out there, I’m telling ya the truth: I felt somebody on the board with me. Boy, I didn’t see anything, but, boy, it was there! With me, riding that wave. It was spooky, I tell ya. Just like the king was there on my board, riding again; which may be, because, you know, a lot of people claim they’ve seen these kings in a whole procession, walking on the trails.

“In fact, I’ll tell ya a little thing. Right above the tunnel on Maui, a guy told us there’s an old Hawaiian trail that goes by the tunnel and the ocean there, all the way over to Maalaea, across the top of the mountain; a short-cut trail, instead of going around the water. The Hawaiians used to go over that way. And the old Hawaiian trail is still there! So, we told ‘em, ‘Oh, is that so?’

“‘Oh, yeah!’

“‘We’d like to try it.’

“‘Well, I don’t know where it starts, but if you go by the tunnel and leave your car there and climb up and just go straight up the mountain above the tunnel, you’ll come to it; you’ll stumble onto it.’

“So, we did that. My daughter’s husband Rick Gavin and I, cuz he was interested, too. So, we did that. We climbed up this mountain, see. We’re struggling up through the rocks and the grass and everything. We said, ‘Well, maybe that guy’s giving us the run-around.’ We didn’t find anything. And we look up there and I said, ‘Wow! Look! Look at all the people!’ And there was a whole procession of people walking along, up above us; up on the mountain. And they were going into a valley. It looked like they were going to come right out near where we were gonna be and we would meet’em. There was a whole procession of them. There must have been 20 of ‘em! And, they had big, long robes and stuff on. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘what are all those people doing here?’ Cuz, few people knew about the trail, apparently.

“OK, so we kept walking up and they disappeared from inside from where we were. We couldn’t see them anymore, but they were heading up the trail where we were going to intercept them, see. So, all of a sudden we came onto the trail at this point. There it was. We were on the trail, the old Hawaiian trail. It’s wide! Wider than a car. All nice and neat, just like a highway. We went to the right and I figured, ‘Oh, boy, we’re gonna meet all these people’ cuz they were coming toward us. We walked all the way around the trail, all the way clear down to Maalaea and there was not one soul. You can take it any way you want, but that’s the facts. And I told Rick, ‘Where’s all these people? We should be meeting them.’ He said, ‘Oh, maybe they went the other way.’ I said, ‘Well, they were headed this way, they weren’t going the way we’re going.’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t know, maybe they went the other way.’ It didn’t seem to bother him, but it bothered me, because, you know, we had to meet ‘em. They couldn’t just disappear. Twenty people? How they gonna just disappear? But, they did! We never saw’em. So, who knows?”

I agreed with Woody that he wasn’t the first or last one to see Hawaii’s “night walkers.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” he responded. “That’s what I mean. How you gonna say it’s not true? If you’ve seen it yourself, you gotta believe it, don’t cha? If somebody tells ya, ‘Nah, nah. You’re just imagining,’ that’s one thing, but when you’ve seen it yourself, well, you’re kind of a little more convinced. And I saw all those people. We both saw ‘em. And they had all funny kinds of costumes on. They didn’t look like white people, today; you know, with regular clothes like we wear; shorts or something. They had these long, funny kind of robes. I don’t know, my friend, I don’t know.”[43]

In the early 1940s, Woody married his second wife Rachel, a Hawaiian.[44] Rabbit Kekai told of their basic lifestyle at this point: “Then he married one of the Hawaiian ladies down here, one of the best hula dancers your’d ever see. He hooked up. Maw Brown we called her. She raised two kids. And Woody was a good provider. They lived over the Waikiki Tavern. The Waikiki Surf Club was down on the side, where Woody, Wally, myself, John Lind were charter members, everybody was there. So, he used to stay up there and he used to take care of us kids, my brother Jamma and I. In certain ways we took care of him and in certain ways he and Maw took care of us. Woody shaped good boards, balsa, balsa-redwood.”[45]

North Shore Rediscovered

The first ones to ride rarely get the credit, especially if there is no photographic evidence. Most surfers do not realize that the North Shore of O‘ahu was surfed hundreds of years before Europeans arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the later part of the 18th Century. We also tend to forget that the North Shore of O‘ahu was being ridden in the 1930s and ‘40s before the arrival of Californians and other non-Hawaiians, who would make big wave surfing on the North Shore known around the world. While those who later rode it in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s get the notoriety for having been “the first,” it was really the Hot Curl guys who were the first ones in the Modern Era to actively pursue big waves all over O‘ahu – including the North Shore.[46]

Duke Kahanamoku and others occasionally rode big surf at Waikiki in the 1910s and ‘20s, but it was the Hot Curl surfers that were the first ones to actively seek big waves wherever they might be on O‘ahu; surfers like Wally Froiseth, John Kelly, Fran Heath, Doug Forbes and a little later Russ Takaki, George Downing and Woody Brown.

With the Hot Curl “modifications proven out,” Fran Heath emphasized, “we were then in a position to meet the challenge of the stronger, steeper, and most unforgiving North Shore waves... The North Shore is unpredictable. The waves there can come up within an hour’s time... and the rip tides. Oh, man, you gotta watch out for those.”[47]

The Hot Curl guys were driven not only to improve their boards, but to seek bigger and bigger surf and so they began to look outside their realm of Waikiki and Black Point for surf spots that would challenge them further. It was then that they found Makaha, on the western side of the island. According to Fran’s recollections, they weren’t surfing Makaha solid “until ‘38 or ‘39, about the time Wally got the job as lighthouse keeper at Barber’s Point.”[48]

Just before, they had first tasted the North Shore.

Froiseth, Kelly, Heath and a few other stalwart comrades tried Sunset Beach, on the North Shore. “It was a year or two later [after the first Hot Curl surfboard was cut], when we first started to go to the North Shore,” Fran said. “We first tried Waimea in ‘39 or ‘40. That really separated the men from the boys!” Fran’s eyes shone, remembering those first days at the spot that would become synonymous with big waves on surfing’s famed North Shore. “It took us a while to figure out if we could handle Waimea. Even after we began riding it, I never took a left slide.”[49]

“... maybe ‘38; basically the same time,” as the first Hot Curls, Wally said. “I was still in high school.

“This is the way it happened with us: A guy named Whitey Harrison – he and Gene Smith went out to Hale‘iwa one day. This was, like, around ‘37 or ‘38, whatever it was. They went out to Hale‘iwa. It was a big day. And they both almost drowned.

“So, Gene Smith was telling us about this. ‘Oh, Christ! You ought to see these waves!’

“Me and my gang, we hear that – ‘Hey, let’s go!’ So, the next weekend we go out there, you know, but Hale‘iwa wasn’t that good, but Sunset Beach was good, so we just went Sunset.

“At that time, there wasn’t a name or anything. We just saw a good surf and went out. It was just when we started to have our Hot Curl boards.”[50]

Southern California surfer Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison surfed O‘ahu, on vacation, a number of years during the 1930s. Even as early as the winter of 1932-33, he had witnessed big surf on the North Shore, at Hale‘iwa.[51] Old timers generally credit Whitey and another Mainlander – Gene “Tarzan” Smith – as the guys who first “rediscovered” the North Shore as a surfing area, in 1938 – most notably Hale‘iwa and Sunset Beach.[52]

Paumalu – now known as Sunset Beach – is a spot on the North Shore noted for excellent surf both in the modern era and in the times of the ancient Hawaiian legends. It is likely that the North Shore of O‘ahu has always been ridden at one time or another – at least since the first Polynesian settlers made their home in the Hawaiian Chain. Unnamed surfers must have been surfing the area, if only on and off, all the way through. We know that guys like Andrew Anderson were living at Mokule‘ia and surfing there in the 1920s and ‘30s. But, in relationship to the surfing movement of the Twentieth Century, it wasn’t until Whitey and Tarzan made the call that the North Shore was put on the surfing map.

“Well, like I say,” Wally reiterated about who was first in the Modern Era, “Whitey Harrison, Gene Smith... Whitey came over to the islands two or three times. He came in the early ‘30s. We were surfing Castle – ‘31, ‘32, somethin’ around there. I mean, he was a good surfer.

“My brother and I, Dougie Forbes... Fran, of course, Kelly – there were really only a couple of guys who went North Shore after Whitey and Gene. It was just too much for the other guys...”[53]

“Nobody went to the North Shore,” Woody told me about when he arrived and later. “We were the first ones to go there. Wally and John Kelly told me, they said, ‘Oh, there at [what’s now Sunset Beach], there’s big waves over there.’”[54]

“Nobody used to go out there,” legendary surfer and beach boy Rabbit Kekai said. “Then the town guys started to go. The pioneers I would say would be George Downing, Wally [Froiseth], Henry Lum, Woody Brown...”[55]

The Death of Dickie Cross

After Woody Brown joined with the rest of the Hot Curl guys, he nearly lost his life (again!) and a young friend he was surfing with definitely lost his. It was on a fateful December 22, 1943 that Woody and a well-known surfer named Dickie Cross paddled out at Sunset on a rising swell. Up to this time, Sunset was only ridden by the Hot Curl guys and this was Woody’s third or fourth time surfing the North Shore.

“My friend and I,” Woody related to me, “we thought, ‘Oh well, it’s winter time.’ There’s no surf in Waikiki at all, see. So, we got bored. You know how surfers get. ‘Oh, let’s go over there and try over there.’ That’s how we got over there and got caught, because the waves were 20 feet.

“Well, that wasn’t too bad, because there was a channel going out, see. The only thing is, when I looked from the shore, I could see the water dancing in the channel, eh? I thought, ‘Uh, oh. Boy, there must be a strong current there, cuz the waves are piling in the bay from both sides,’ causing this narrow channel going out. Then, it opened up. So, we thought, ‘Gee, boy, well let’s just go sit in the channel a little ways from the beach and see how strong the current is. If it’s not too strong, we can paddle back in, then:  no worry, eh?’

“So, we did that. We went out. We sat in the channel and it wasn’t too bad. We could paddle in any time. ‘So, OK,’ there was 20 foot waves breaking on each side. We went out to catch these waves and slide toward the channel. The only trouble was, the surf was on the way up. We didn’t know that. It was the biggest surf they’d had in years and years, see, and it was on the way up. Twenty feet was the smallest it was gonna get, but we didn’t know! I mean, it looked good!

“So, we got caught out there! It kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and, finally, we were sitting in this deep hole where the surf was breaking on two sides and coming into the channel. The channel opened up into this big deep area where we were and the surf would break on two sides and we were trying to catch’em.

“Then, all of a sudden, way outside in the blue water, a half mile out from where we were – and we were out a half mile from shore – way out in the blue water this tremendous wave came all the way down the coast, from one end to the other. It feathered and broke out there! We thought, ‘Oh boy, so long, pal. This is the end.’ But, we were sitting in this deep hole and so we watched these things come in. The white water was rolling, oh, what – 20 feet of white water, eh? Rolling in and just before it got to us, it hit this deep hole and the white water just backed-up. The huge swell came through, but didn’t break. Oh, boy! Scared the hell out of us! Well, there was a set of about 5 or 6 waves like that. So, after the set went by, we said, ‘Hey, let’s get the hell inside. What are we doing out here? This is no place to be! Let’s get in!’”[56]

Told another way, Woody said in an interview with surf writer Bruce Jenkins: “A bunch of us surfed Sunset in the early ‘40s. We were the first ones. The day my friend Dickie Cross lost his life was one of the biggest I’d seen, a swell coming up to 20 feet or more. As it turned out, this was one of the biggest swells ever. It washed out the old Haleiwa Restaurant and did a lot of damage on both sides of the highway. But we didn’t have any idea it would escalate like that. The channel at Sunset looked negotiable in the middle of the bay, so we figured it was safe to go out. This was late afternoon, and we were all alone out there.

“Just when we got out beyond the break, a tremendous set appeared on the horizon, maybe a mile out. It looked to be over 100 feet of water. It was just one wave, all the way from Sunset down toward Waimea, as far as we could see. Here we are, sitting outside a 20-foot break, but inside this wave. Dickie and I just said to ourselves, ‘This is it. It’s all over.’

“The wave came in, but it turned out there was a great, deep hole in the reef out there. The wave dissipated in the middle. Now we realized, hey, we’re still alive, let’s get the heck out of here.”[57]

“So, we tried to paddle in, eh?” Woody continued, making paddling gestures. “As we came in to this channel, it got narrow in there. We’re paddling and paddling and finally we stopped for a minute to rest and my friend says, ‘Woody, you know where we are, don’t’cha?’ I thought about it and, oh, wow, we hadn’t moved one damn foot. All that paddling and we were right where we were before we started paddling. We couldn’t get in. That’s how we got caught out there.

“You have to be very careful of these channels. When the waves get big, the rip current just pours out of there, out of the bay. You can’t get in.”[58]

Woody told Jenkins, “We figured if we lost our boards coming in through the white water, we’d never make it in, so we’re digging like mad in the channel, for maybe 20 minutes. Finally Dickie sat down and rested. ‘You know where we are, don’t you?’ he said. And I knew. We hadn’t moved an inch. We were in the exact same place where we started. Now it’s starting to get dark, with huge sets coming in every 10 minutes, so we figured we’d better get outside of everything and make our way down to Waimea.”[59]

Wally Froiseth picked up the story: “They went out at Sunset and it got bigger and bigger and they couldn’t get in. Then it got just like all the way across where there’s no break in the surf, just continuous. One of those huge days. So they paddled down the coast and they paddled all the way to Waimea Bay.”[60]

“Anyway, we didn’t know what to do,” Woody admitted to me. “So, finally, we decided, ‘Well, there was only one thing to do. We gotta wait until that huge set goes by’— which is only about every 10 minutes – ‘then, we’ll paddle like hell to get outside of ‘em and then paddle down the coast and come in at Waimea.’ When we went by Waimea before we went out, it was only 20 feet. The whole bay was open, right, it was just breaking on the point, more or less. So, we feel, well, we’ll come-in over there; big beach break, there.

“The only trouble was, it didn’t work that way. By the time we got there, it kept getting bigger and bigger. It went up on the Haleiwa Restaurant and it wiped out the road at Sunset. It was the biggest surf they’d had in years and we were stuck out there.”[61]

I mentioned to Woody that George Downing swears the waves were 40-foot that day, breaking over a shelf in 80 feet of water,[62] and asked him if he thought the estimate was in there.

“Yeah, I think, easy. On the way down, while we were paddling down to Waimea, we got out OK, past the big sets at Sunset, you know. And so we started to paddle down the coast. This guy who was with me, a young kid – he was only around 17 – he was just a gutsy young guy. One of these guys: all guts and nothing up here; just, ‘ummm.’

“So, we’re paddling down and he keeps workin’ in! I said, ‘Hey!’ Boy, you know, I’m lookin’ as we’re paddling down and I’m saying, ‘Look, the surf is breaking right along a line where we are, ahead of us and behind. We’re right in the line of this break. We better move out more, yet.’

“‘Nah, nah, nah! That’s alright.’

“He wouldn’t move out. I could see we were in a boneyard! So, I pulled and said, ‘Well, I’m gonna move out. Come on!’ I went out about a hundred yards further than him and we paddled down like that, side by side.

“Then what I was afraid might happen did happen. In other words, a set came where we were – a big, tremendous set. Boy, outside of us there was just a step ladder as far as you could see, going uphill. Oh, man! I scratched for all I was worth. It took 8 or 10 paddles up the face of the waves, it was so big. You could paddle 10 paddles and you’re still going up the face of the wave. Oh, wow!

“I got over ‘em – I got over all the sets – and I sat down and looked to see where Dickie was, cuz he was inside of me! Boy, I couldn’t see him because the waves were all in the way. You know. And then, the last wave I saw him come over the top and it was so steep, his board and him just flew in the air and came down on the other side. Then he paddled out to me and I said, ‘Dickie, you think you could have lived through that?’

“He said, ‘Hell no!’

“So, then I said, ‘How big do you think these waves are out here?’ We agreed we thought they were 60 feet.”[63]

“Dickie was just a young boy, but man... he had so much guts. He also had his own way of doing things. As we headed west, we were getting big sets ahead and behind us. I moved out maybe 100 yards, and I figured he’d come out with me, because in a situation like that, you want company. But he didn’t. I think he was just too tired. All of a sudden this massive set came in, right on top of us; just a big, blue step ladder. I got over the last one, and I saw him go over the top, but his board flew maybe 60 feet in the air.”[64]

“Well, then we kept going down the coast, see,” Woody said to me, entirely engrossed in retelling the tale, “and he was with me. As we got close to Waimea, he starts coming in, again, see. I said, ‘Hey! Hey! No!’ Cuz we had agreed we’d go out in the middle of the bay, where it was safe, and sit there and watch the sets go by and see what it looked like. Then we could judge where to get in and what.

“But, no! He starts cutting in, cutting in, and I hollered at him, ‘Hey, hey, don’t go in there. Let’s go out in the middle!’


“He just wouldn’t pay any attention. It seemed like it was his time; just like something was calling him, you know? Because, look at how he was acting, eh? Even though he had almost got caught and admitted he couldn’t have lived through it, and still he was cutting in, again. It was just like it was his time to go. I don’t know.”[65]

“Now we’re down at Waimea and it’s really getting late. I was sitting outside, because at this stage, the 20-foot sets off the point were the small ones. And Dickie, you talk about guts, he kept pulling in toward the inside, determined to catch the wave of his life and make it through this thing. As I look back, I believe destiny was calling. It just seemed like this was Dickie’s time.”[66]

The clarity with which Woody remembered this fateful surf was amazing to me. “Anyway, he cut in and cut in as we went up. When we got to the point, there were 20 foot waves breaking there all the time and then these big sets would come every 10 minutes. So, he was going in and I would see him go up over these swells and come back out off the top. The next one would come and he’d disappear and then I’d see him come up over the top and it looked like he was trying to catch ‘em. Yeah, that was the only thing I could think of.

“Finally, one wave he came up over the top, he’d lost his board. ‘Oh, boy,’ I thought, ‘Oh, gee, two of us on my little cut-down board!’ – I’d cut it down – and I was exhausted.”[67]

Woody recalled to Bruce Jenkins, “The next thing I knew, he’d lost his board. He was just swimming out there. I kept yelling, ‘Come on out!’ ... All I could think of was, if I can save my board and share it, we might have a chance.”[68]

The way in which Woody told the story with such animation seemed to almost take me there. Woody: “I thought: ‘Two guys on one board? What chance do we got, now?’ But, I told him, ‘Come out, come out!’ It sounded like he said, ‘I can’t, Woody, I’m too tired.’ That’s what it sounded like. But then, he started swimming out towards me, so I started paddling in to catch him to pick him up on my board.

“Well, you know, at a time like that, in that kind of big waves... you’re watching outside all the time, right? Your eye’s out there, cuz you never feel safe. So, I’m paddling in and one eye’s out there and one eye’s on him to pick him up. All of a sudden, his eyes see the darn mountains coming way outside in the blue water, just piling one on top of another, way out there. I turned around and started paddling outside for all I’m worth because I figured if I lose that board, too, then what chance do we got? Two guys swimming, eh? My only chance is to save the only board we got. So, I turn around and I’m paddling out and I’m paddling towards the first one coming in and it keeps coming in, getting bigger and steeper and higher and getting a little white on the top. Well, I saw that I just wasn’t gonna make it – you know – it was just cresting already. And so, just as it came to me, I threw my board and just dove down and headed for the bottom. That’s your only chance in a big wave is to get down in the deep water.

“I could go 30 feet in those days and I got way, way down in that blue, blue water and, boy, I could feel myself being lifted up like this and drawn back again. I could see the white water boiling down under me and behind me. I’m 30 feet down and the white water’s still boiling 30 feet down! You couldn’t live through that. I was just lucky I was just out beyond it just enough.

“I got up to the surface. The next one was coming and I swam like hell toward it. Luckily, they broke in the same place and I dove down and got under it; a whole set, about five of ‘em. Then, when they went by, I started looking for Dickie, cuz he’s been inside of me. Oh, boy. I hollered and called and looked, swam around, and there was no more Dickie anywhere. It’s getting dark, now, too! The sun’s just about setting...”[69]

Wally Froiseth told Nat Young: “Well, they were sitting there when this huge set came. Dickie started to paddle for it, to take off on it. And Woody told him ‘no, no, don’t take it, it’s all the way across the bay. There’s no chance of you going any place.’ But the last thing he saw was Dickie dropping into it; we never saw him again. The wave outside of Woody was bigger yet. He had no chance to get out of it. It must have been a huge wave because, you know, they were both good surfers and they could read the swells...”[70]

Woody repeated this part of the story for Bruce Jenkins: “And then, from way outside, comes this set. All the people on the beach were calling it 40 feet, and I wasn’t gonna make it. I shoved my board and headed for the bottom.

“I could dive 30 feet easily in those days. I had done it regularly, diving for fish. But this was a new experience. I was in clean, blue water, but it was still pulling me toward the bottom. It was so deep, I saw white water coming up below me. Eventually, I got to the surface. I really have no idea how. The whole set was that way; they all broke in roughly the same place. I looked around frantically for Dickie, but there was no more Dickie. That’s the last I ever saw of him.”[71]

“So, I’m swimming,” Woody told me, “and I think, ‘Well, I’m gonna die, anyway, so I might just as well try to swim in, because, what the hell, I’m dead, anyway, if I’m gonna float around out here.’” Woody was so exhausted, he took his trunks off to reduce drag. For a moment, he thought about sharks but quickly told himself, “Oh, that’s ridiculous,” because chances were he was going to die, anyway, why worry about sharks?

“There were no surfers on the North Shore in those days. Nobody knew we were out there and there were no boats. I thought, ‘Hell, I’m dead, anyhow. I’ll do what we said. I’ll swim out to the middle of the bay and I’ll wait and watch the big sets go by and after a big set goes by, then I just try swimming and hope to God I can get in far enough that when another big set comes in I’ll be where it isn’t so big and strong.’

“And that’s what I did. I was just lucky when the first one came. I’m watching it come, bigger and higher and higher and it broke way outside, maybe 4-5 hundred yards outside of me. I said, ‘Well, maybe I got a chance.’ So, I dove as deep as I could go, again, and I just took the beating; a terrible beating. And it was terrible. And when I couldn’t stand anymore – black spots are coming in front of my eyes – I just started heading for wherever it looked lightish color. You know, you didn’t know what was up or down. Wherever it looked kind of a light color, it might look like down, but ‘that’s where I’m headed for.’ And I got my head up!”[72]

Woody backed up a bit and told Jenkins about his shark thoughts: “Now it’s getting dark, and I’m thinking about sharks. I figured, what the heck, I’m gonna die anyway, I might as well try to swim in, and I took off my shorts to reduce the drag. I mean, sharks? At that point, what difference does it make? Now here comes another set, breaking maybe 100 yards outside of me. Another terrible beating. I was just down there, you know, where you don’t know what’s up, down, sideways, anything. But as the set went on, I dove a little shallower each time. I found that it was pushing me in that way.

“When I got inside, I saw the way the current was running. Just like a raging river, so fast, along the beach. I knew if I got too far over (toward the rocks), it would pull me right back out. I just battled for all I was worth. Somehow, barely conscious, I got to the sand and crawled up the beach on my hands and knees.”[73]

Woody concluded his retelling of the story with me, recalling the very end of his struggle: 

“So, I figured, ‘Man, if I lived through this one, I got a chance!’ Cuz each one, I’m getting washed in, eh? So, each time I dove a little less deep and I saw it was washing me in.”

I told him I assumed he was facing out, diving into the wave each time. “Yeah, you’re watching ‘em come. Oh, yeah, sure,” he replied. “So that at the last minute, you dive down before it gets to ya.

“So, they washed me up on the beach. I was so weak, I couldn’t stand up. I crawled out on my hands and knees and these army guys came running down. The first thing I said to them was, ‘Where’s the other guy?’ They said, ‘Oh, we never saw him after he got wrapped up in that first big wave.’ That was their words. ‘Wrapped up in that first big wave.’ I figured from that, this guy [Dickie] had so much guts, he tried to bodysurf the wave. Because, otherwise he would have dove down. Why didn’t he dive down under it? If he got ‘wrapped up’ meant that he was up in the curl, right? How else would you express it? So, I figured he tried to bodysurf.”[74]

That was Woody’s third brush with death.

“The worst part about it was telling Mrs. Cross that her son had died,” Woody told Ben Marcus. “That was one of the most terrible things I’ve ever had to do. It was three days before Christmas. I didn’t have much aloha for the North Shore after that, and no one surfed it for years and years after Dickie died.”[75]

“We never found any part of Dickie. He just vanished. We did find the board, just shattered to pieces…

“I was never quite the same after that. It was a month or two before I could even go out at Waikiki, and from that point on, I found Makaha a lot more to my liking. Sure, I went back to the North Shore, but never with the same old fire.”[76]


The quest for big surf and nothing but big surf began with the birth of the Hot Curl surfboard in 1937. “The idea, then,” said Fran Heath, “was to get the biggest wave you could; to get in the curl; to get in the tube.”[77]

Yet, a half decade after the first Hot Curls were cut down, Dickie Cross’ death and Woody Brown’s near drowning sent a shock wave throughout the small community of island surfers riding big waves, reminding all that the danger in riding big surf was very real. For the first time, a surfer was lost during obvious big surf and swell conditions. There was a point that could be reached where what once had been a rideable wave was no longer. Or, still, could big Waimea be ridden? What was the biggest wave that could be ridden? No one knew for sure. In fact, we still don’t know as we push the size limits ever more. Following Dickie Cross’ death at Waimea on December 22, 1943, one thing was for sure: the North Shore became off-limits for nearly another half decade.

After Dickie Cross'’s death, Woody “didn’t care to go” to the North Shore “anymore. Later, with Wally and them, we went to Makaha. We found that place there and that was better. It had big waves – 25 feet – but, they were out on a point. Makaha had a nice wall across the bay and a nice shoulder you could make all the way across. It even had a channel to go in and out. So, you can’t beat that. The shore break was awful. Oh, God! The shorebreak was so bad, 8-10 feet on the bare sand! You just threw your board away and swam in. You weren’t about to go in with your board, you know?”[78]

Makaha was and continues to be one of the last ethnic Hawaiian strongholds, resting among the valleys fringing the West Side of O‘ahu and wedged between Kaena Point, the Waianae Range and Kamaileunu Ridge.

The Hot Curl guys had first started surfing Makaha around 1938, shortly after the first Hot Curls were cut,[79] but the gravitation to Makaha really took place “after that episode with Dickie Cross,” Woody Brown said, “over there on the other side of the island. Wally and them said, ‘Well, there’s a good place at Makaha. Come on, we’ll go over there.’ So, we went over there. That’s when we started surfing there. They had surfed there a couple of times. At least they knew about it. That was good surf; that was really good.

“But, after that thing with Dickie Cross, I was so scared of waves, I couldn’t even go out at Waikiki in little 2 foot waves. I was terrified. It took me a month to gradually be able to go out again.”[80]

“We discovered – at least for us – Makaha,” Wally Froiseth told me. “We were diving there with Dougie Forbes and my brother and all the rest of us. Spearfishing. And all of a sudden, the swell began to rise and it got bigger and bigger and bigger and inside of an hour, I mean, Christ, it was 15-feet! We were diving and nearly got nailed. We were kinda greedy, cuz we just hit a school of [fish]. Nobody wanted to leave, but lucky we got out. The waves were just smashing.

“We had a friend, when they were making the control towers up there at Nanakuli[81] and he let us know when the surf was up... That was a guy by the name of Franklin Finlayson. His father was the contractor for the building of those towers, see... and he was stationed way up on the ridge up there... He’d give us a call. I mean, winter time. We were all in high school at that time.

“Sometimes we’d go out there in the extreme of the winter storms. The rain would be so bad, you know, there weren’t any paved roads. You had to go through stream beds and things like that to get to Makaha. Sometimes you couldn’t actually get there and we’d have to surf [as far as we could take the cars]...”[82]

“When was it that you guys started to go out to Makaha?” I asked him.

“Oh, about ‘38, I guess; around there – ‘37, something like that. It might have been ‘36, too, cuz... ‘36-’37. Middle ‘30s. Right after we developed the Hot Curl.

“Kelly lost his board there, see. Kelly lost his board on one huge day. It was something else.

“That was before I had the ‘36 Ford. I had a ‘27 Chevrolet. We put the boards in. Kelly and I were riding and we’d gone out there and we saw these waves at Barbers Point – just huge, you know? So, we sit on the back of the seat... sit on that. I was steering with my feet. Kelly and I are yelling – we were so stoked! – and we ran off the road; you know, not paying attention; blew a tire. Another fella was following us; a feller who lived right near Kelly. We patched the tire and got going again and did the same damn thing – we were so excited at the waves! I had no more spare, then. So, then we had to pack the boards – put all the boards in his car – and went out to Makaha, then. We went surfing. And, of course, I guess the waves were too big for our boards, you know. Kelly lost his. Fifteen, eighteen feet, maybe twenty. I don’t know; hard to tell. But, they were big, very big.

“See, with those boards – the thing about the Hot Curl board – by that time, we liked to ride high on the wave and as the thing steepens and you’re higher here –” Wally gestured with hands. “— we used to drop through the air, 6 or 8 feet. And, if you hang onto your board and don’t fall off, you’re lucky enough and may make it across the bowl.

“Especially Makaha; Sunset, the same thing. You just drop through the air, you know, 4, 5, 6 feet sometimes, because we tried to get across – slide. And our boards weren’t that fast in those days. We didn’t have sharp edges. We had our ‘calculated drag,’ you know, so the flow of the water would drag just enough to keep your tail from spinning, see. Actually, when you have any drag, it’s going to slow your forward speed down...”[83]

For Woody Brown, Makaha “was a better surf than the North Shore. We had nice, long lines! Again, it broke out on that point. There’s a peak, see, and then you could slide all the way across the bay.

“I’ve seen 25 feet, there, and you could make every damn one! In fact, we were making every one. We kept moving more over to the point, more in the boneyard. We kept moving over and still we were making ‘em! Move further; still make ‘em! And, move waay ‘till we were way out in front of that point and:  still make ‘em across!

“And I’ve seen other days when you couldn’t make one, no matter where you sat. It all depends on the angle the waves come in; how they hit the shallow water. That determines the shape of it, mostly. Size is up or down. Naturally, if it’s in further, the shape of the reef’s different than it is out, but mostly it’s the angle they come in at.”

I asked Woody how long after Dickie Cross’s death was it that people began to surf the North Shore again. “Oh, a long, long time. Nobody surfed there for another 5, maybe 8, 10 years.

“We went Makaha, see. Everybody went Makaha, first. Then, the guys started going the North Shore. Then, there was Makaha and the North Shore. But, Makaha was first.”[84]

From the mid-’40s into the early 1950s, Woody Brown, Wally Froiseth, John Kelly, Fran Heath, Henry Lum, George Downing, Russ Takaki and a handful of others surfed big waves at Waikiki, the North Shore, and Makaha on progressively advanced equipment. Woody singled out one guy: “Henry Lum,” recalled Woody, was such a “skinny Chinaman and so frail; couldn’t have weighed more’n a hundred pounds. He’d go out in those big waves [at Makaha]. Boy, he was so weak and skinny, you know. Wally and I said, ‘Well, I guess we’re not gonna see Henry again.’ Twenty foot waves! He convinced us he wanted to go out. He could surf alright, but, you know, he was so frail! But, he always seemed to live through it. We rescued him a’coupla times. In the white water you get exhausted, eh? But, he did alright. He kept going. I give him credit, boy; a lot of guts, that guy.”[85]

Even with the discovery of the North Shore, most of the Hot Curl guys preferred Makaha when the winter swells rolled in. I asked Wally Froiseth about this.

“That’s the thing about Waimea Bay,” Wally said, referring to the kind of wave it was. “I never really liked it, cuz it’s just a big drop. Nothing. No challenge to me. A challenge is, like, Makaha. We’d go out the Point and not only have the guts to take the wave when it’s at its peak – you ride across that wall and when you get to the bowl, the bowl is sometimes bigger than the Point! And, you’re going into the bowl from the end. You’re going into the bowl, not coming out of the bowl!

“Ricky Grigg [who came out in 1958] was all North Shore. ‘Aw, Wallace! What the hell you guys stay at Makaha for?’

“So, one day he came over Makaha, at the Point. It was big. We was all, from the Point, just getting nailed; making only 1 out of 10, you know. ‘Goddamn! Now, I understand,’ he said, later on. ‘This goddamn wave’s a challenge!’ The North Shore, the takeoff is a great thing...”[86]

“The only guy of the group down here at Waikiki that’d have out was Duke,” Wally credited. “He came out a few times... He went out there cuz the word spread from our gang; our group. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have ever gone. But, the word was around and that was the thing to do if you liked big surf.

“But... I saw him about a dozen times out there. I can remember three definite times. It wasn’t huge, but it was pretty good size. No question, he could surf.”[87]

“What happened with going Makaha in those early days,” Wally continued, “is that we’d talk about Makaha, you know. ‘Gosh!’ We’d try to get other guys to go, cuz nobody went. We were the only guys who went. There was nobody else that went. It was barren, anyway. It’s like the North Shore...

“So, we’d lose the guys; in two ways. One way, we’d take ‘em out there, brag about it and everything. We’d go out there and there’s nothing. Flat. ‘Ah! You guys are bullshittin!’’ You know, so then we come back. And then, the second way, we’d take them out there and it’s so goddamn big, they’d be scared shitless! So, they wouldn’t go surfing. They’d just sit on the beach. So, we’d lose ‘em...”[88]

“We started going to Makaha all the time,” Fran Heath remembered. “We’d try to bring other guys out with us, but one of three things would happen. If the surf was good, they might go out with us and have a helluva hard time out there. If it was really good, they’d usually end up sitting on the beach. Of course, if it was flat, they’d give us a hard time about our ‘exaggerations.’”[89]

There are four distinct breaks at Makaha: the Point, the Bowl, Blowhole and Inside Reef. Rideable at any size, Makaha becomes a challenge over ten feet.

“The first time I rode Makaha it was about an 8’ day,” recalled legendary surfer and beach boy Rabbit Kekai. “One time it got big and Georgie [Downing] and them, they went out, and they came back and said, ‘Hey Rabbit, try there, breaking big, the point.’ So that’s when we’d go. We used to ride the point a lot. Woody Brown, Wally [Froiseth], George, Henry Lum... they were what you call the regulars, and I used to tag along. And after you go there a couple of times you just get the bug.”[90]

On the mode and type of transportation from Honolulu to the non-urbanized surfing areas – town-to-country – Rabbit remembered, “all of us had ‘36 Ford Phaeatons. Downing, Wally, myself. You see one of those cars in Nat Young’s [History of Surfing] book with the boards sticking out. Wally sayd it’s his car. I told Wally that’s my car (laughing). Cause they’re all the same, same.”[91]

In the late 1940s, the Hot Curl guys were gradually joined by U.S. Mainland haoles like Joe Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Matt Kivlin, Melonhead, Dave Rochlen and Buzzy Trent.[92]

“Tommy Zahn used to surf with us,” Woody told me. “I remember him at Waikiki and he had a balsa board. It was a very light balsa board. See, my board was 80 pounds for those big waves. He had a little board. It couldn’t have weighed more than about 30 pounds; all balsa, nothing else. But, it was no good at all at Waikiki, see, with that tradewind blowing.

“We were out one day in pretty big waves; about 20 feet at Waikiki, there. It’s called Papa Nui. It’s a big blue water break between Queens and Canoes, way out. So, we were out there catching and he couldn’t catch ‘em. Every time he’d try to catch ‘em, the wind would blow him right off the top of the wave. But, with my board, I’d just pop in and go.”[93]

As for Buzzy Trent, “He went out Makaha with me,” Woody recalled. “You know, with Wally and I the first time. He’d never been out at Makaha before. ‘Wow!’ he said and his eyes were big. He asked, ‘We’re going out there?’

“‘Sure, sure!’ So, he was game. We paddled out and, boy, we’re sitting there waiting for the wave and these monstrous swells just go by. But, they weren’t big enough to catch, you know. And Buzzy’s eyes bulged. ‘You mean, we’re gonna catch these?’ I’ll never forget that! ‘You mean, we’re gonna catch these?’ But, he did. He got into it.”[94]

“Buzzy came over from the Mainland and he talked about big waves,” Woody retold the story to Ben Marcus, “and we said, ‘Come with us.’ We went to Makaha and it was a pretty good day, maybe 20 feet. I’ll never forget his expression. Buzzy saw these waves, and all you could see were two big eyes, and he said, ‘You mean we’re going to catch these?’ And we said, ‘Sure, Buzzy. Let’s go!’ But he got into it. He got into the swing.”[95]

“Buzzy Trent,” Russ Takaki said the name with a reverence I’d only heard in reference to the older Hot Curl guys. “Oh, yeah! We surfed a lot, togedah. He used to like Makaha, also.”[96]

In addition to Buzzy Trent, Woody also had praise for surfing’s first commercial filmmaker, who released his first surf movie in 1953. “Oh, boy, I used to admire Bud Browne. He’d sit right in the boneyard, where these 20 foot waves are gonna crack right down on him, so he could get close and see us going across in front of him, eh! But, that was swell! We’d make it, but he’d get the axe. He’d be swimming right there with a camera and he’d be right there where the wave pounded him; rolled him around every time. Oh! I used to admire him, boy! And, he’s a frail kind of a guy, you know. You see him and he’s not a big bruiser.”[97]

“Makaha point surf... [was] the ultimate challenge,” attested Peter Cole who came to Makaha in the early 1950s. “When these waves wrap around Kaena Point from the north, they reach their peak in the bowl and are nearly impossible to make.”[98]

“Woody Brown... He was a big wave rider only!” California surfer Walter Hoffman, who came over in 1948, recalled. “The biggest wave I ever saw ridden was by him at Makaha in the early days. God, that wave was fabulous! He... lived right above the Tavern with his wife Ma Brown… a really neat guy, a real gentleman.”[99]

In 1953, Honolulu photographer Thomas “Skip” Tsuzuki took the famous Associated Press photo of Buzzy Trent, Woody and George Downing riding a 15-foot wave at Makaha that went world wide. “That’s the first big wave that was ever photographed that had world wide distribution,” Woody recalled. “After that, of course, people started getting gung ho over big waves. That’s probably when they started going the North Shore. That stirred everybody up. They started going everywhere there was big waves.” Woody clarified that, “When we were riding Makaha, other surfers were starting to go there; about the time Buzzy Trent came over to Makaha. After that, he started going over to the North Shore with those guys, too.”[100]

About the famous AP photo of Trent, Brown and Downing, Woody repeated to Ben Marcus that “That was the first big-wave photograph ever made and it stirred up a furor on the Mainland. All those guys came over and there were the movies, and then they rode Waimea Bay and the magazines started up. But that was after my time.”[101]

Woody picked up the nickname of “Spider” because, as he put it, “I surf with my arms all out, half squatting down, and with my long legs I look like a big spider riding a board.”[102] His stance was evident in the Tsukuki photograph. On that ride, Woody was the only one who made it all the way across.

George Downing confirmed Woody’s ride, saying that he “was the only one that made the wave. That was point break at Makaha. Where Woody was, he was on the perfect place on the wave.”[103]

California surfers started coming over, after that picture,” Woody told me. “That went to the Mainland and – boy – that drove everybody crazy. They couldn’t believe that. So, they all wanted to come out here and see for themselves. But, I didn’t know any of those guys. I didn’t go with ‘em then. I just went with Wally and them. I just never got to know ‘em. For instance, Joe Quigg nice guy, gentle, quiet guy.

“We were kind of separated into two bunches, then. Wally, Kelly and me and those guys – we would go to Makaha. California guys went more for the North Shore. I don’t know why; probably because the waves were more peaks and you could play around on the peak, where Makaha had this wall and, man, you had to have a good, fast board and had to really trim it to get going; to get across. That, maybe, didn’t appeal to them.”[104]


Woody did more than just surf in Hawaii. More than anyone in the Twentieth Century, he was the man who brought the functional design of the ancient Polynesian double-hulled canoe design into the modern era and worldwide popularity. “He’s an innovator,” surfing veteran Don Okey declared of Woody, citing the catamaran Woody built in 1946. “That started the whole craze of catamarans.”[105]

Woody said he based his twin-hulled craft on the design first created by Polynesian sailors. Woody met some Tongans while surveying on Christmas Island following the end of World War II. “There was this canoe there, ya know, the outrigger canoe the Melanesian boys made. It was so fast! Oh, we passed a Navy motor launch, just on the fly; go by ‘em so fast! I said, ‘Hey!’ I sailed sailboats and there was nothing like this anywhere. ‘I’m gonna build one like this when I get home.’

“So, I did. I met this Hawaiian boy, Alfred Kumali, and he was interested, too. So, we said, ‘Let’s build one.’ So, we went to the Bishop Museum. We studied all the old canoes of Oceana.

“Captain Cook [who lead the first European expeditions to Polynesia in the late 1700s] said, ‘Well, they’re nice canoes, but they’re all bent out of shape. They don’t know how to make ‘em straight. They’re all bent crooked.’ He just didn’t understand it was an asymmetric hull. They made them that way on purpose! So, the Polynesians understood hydrodynamics, which we’d never heard of! Captain Cook never heard of that. The Polynesians were so far ahead of Captain Cook and yet he just said, ‘They’re dumb, they don’t know anything.’ We’re so arrogant and conceited, aren’t we?”[106]

Woody had sailed with the Tongans in their double-hulled canoes and found the design attractive and fast. “When I came back to Hawaii, I was all jazzed on this double hull,” Woody told Ben Marcus. Out in a Hawaiian field, he and Alfred Kumalai “built a 16-footer and called it the Manu Kai, which means Sea Bird. I did about 15 knots in that thing, and passed all the so-called American racing boats, which couldn’t go faster than 7 or 8 knots. I’d go by them like they were parked, and they didn’t like that much. They didn’t let me into the yacht club.”[107]

“He was the first to bring them down here,” Rabbit Kekai recalled of Woody’s catamarans. “They were about 14’ and had lateen sails. I used to sail it off Diamond Head where the ‘leahi’ wind blew, and when we’d get knocked down over there, he’d get so mad.”[108]

Woody’s second catamaran was a 38-footer, which he also named Manu Kai. “Woody built the first big catamaran, the Manu Kai, in his backyard,” remembered Rabbit Kekai. 

“Everybody pitched in. We rolled the damn thing down the highway and it took about sixty guys to lift that cat, walk about ten feet then put it down. Rest. All the way down to a lagoon where we put it in the water. Then Woody sailed it to Waikiki for the first time. He somehow got licensed to be the first guy out there.”[109] The cat could do more than 20 knots and was widely regarded as the fastest sailboat in the world. “Had Brown jumped into the patent process and made an empire of his invention,” speculated surf writer Ben Marcus, “he would have been filthy rich. Instead, he made a simple living selling his plans, building larger boats for believers and taking stoked tourists for rides.”[110] The second, bigger Manu Kai is now generally considered to have been the first modern, ocean-going catamaran.[111]

Actually, sailing catamarans were “invented” and patented by Nathanael Herreshoff in 1877. After sailing on the Manu Kai with Woody, surfer Hobie Alter went on to hold a design patent for his “Hobie Cat” and made a fortune as a result.[112]

I mentioned to Woody that his surfing must have been less after he got into catamarans. 

“Yeah, a lot less,” he replied. “Because you’re tired, you know? You don’t have time, see. Cuz I was just barely making a living. I used to have to work. Sunday was such a good day that I didn’t want to take off. Time I could take off was when the surf would come up and we couldn’t go on the beach with a cat; then I’d go out surfing. But, that wasn’t too often. So, my surfing was kind of cut down.”[113]

One of the Mainland surfers who came over in the late 1940s was Joe Quigg, most noted for his development of the “Malibu Board” and his craftsmanship in building paddleboards. Quigg was one of the many surfers who worked for Woody on the catamarans and he remembers it as a romantic era. “We’d pull up on the beach at Waikiki and tourists would throw money at us and jump in. Woody would be stuffing money in his shirt and down his shorts and anywhere he could. He’d go to the bank in the afternoon and dump all this sandy money out of his pockets. It was a great business.”[114]

His catamaran career kept Woody in business for 40 years. It was an ideal living for a waterman who lived for speed.

Duke Kahanamoku even, “bought one of my little catamarans,” Woody replied when I asked him how well he had known the Duke. “He used to go racing with it. He was a member of the yacht club. So, I got to know him pretty well, but I never got to surf with him too much because by the time I came along, he was getting kind of old, already. He didn’t care to go out Castle, anymore. He’d stay in there at first break.”[115]

On June 5, 1955, Woody launched Waikiki Surf, which he had built with Rudy Choy. Five days later, they sailed it from Honolulu to Santa Monica, arriving 15 days and 12 hours later, for an average of 180 miles a day over 2,700 nautical miles.[116]

The voyage was meant to basically prove the seaworthiness of the cat design,[117] but did not come easy. “Whoo! We ran into a big storm,” Woody told me – like Wally had also told me – getting quite animated at the recollection, “that had 70 mile-an-hour winds and 30 foot waves. I had to tie all my crew down with a rope, cuz if they ever washed overboard, there was no way you could turn around to pick ‘em up. You’re just going with the wind and keep the boat straight, because the waves were so big, if you ever got hit sideways, it would roll you right over. Pretty hairy!”[118]

With Woody and Rudy Choy were Wally Froiseth and Rich Muirhead. “When the storms came –” Woody backtracked in his recollection, “when the barometer started going down real fast – I told the guys, ‘Oh, boy, there’s a big storm pretty close, somewhere.’ The barometer kept going down and the swells kept on getting bigger and the wind’s picking up. So, I said, ‘Hey, hey, to hell with this course. Let’s just turn and go away because if the wind is blowing this way –’ I knew from the way the high pressures spiral – they spiral away – ‘the storm center must be right over here and is traveling about like this. We better make it over this way; instead of going the charted course.’

“Of course, the financier of the trip said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to California!’ I said, ‘No, the hell with California right now. We want to get away from the storm because we don’t know how strong it’s getting.’ The waves were getting huge, the wind was getting strong, and the barometer was going down faster ‘n hell! So, I knew there was a bad storm out there.

“This dumb guy who owned the boat – see, I didn’t have enough money to do this, so this young guy came and said, ‘Look, I’ll pay for it. I’ll buy the boat and I’ll pay for all the trip.’ Alright! But, he was such a disagreeable, such a terrible person! When I changed course, he went, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, the barometer –’

“‘We don’t need no barometer!’ was his attitude and reply.

“Then, I kept cutting the sails down and getting the sails smaller as the wind picked up. And, the guy goes, ‘Oh, no, don’t put the sail down! We’ll never get to California!’ I said, ‘Look, if you don’t take it down, now, you’re not going to be able to get it down, cuz it’s pushed against the rigging and mast and everything; cuz we’re running with the wind. You can’t go anywhere else but with the wind, now, see, it’s gotten so bad.’

“At first, when I went down, they didn’t understand. But, then, after it picked up and got worse and worse, you couldn’t go anywhere but with it. Waves are 30 feet and breaking, like surfing waves! A 30 foot wave would roll that catamaran over like a toy. I had to keep it right, you know, straight-off, and ride with it. So, when they began to understand, the crew didn’t grumble.

“But, this one fella: ‘Oh, don’t take the sail down!’ I said, ‘Look, if you don’t get it now – see how tight it’s stretched against the rigging? – you’re not going to be able to get it down!’

“‘Oh, I’ll get it down. Don’t worry, I’ll get it down!’

“So, I figured, the only way this guy’s gonna learn is the hard way. So, I said, ‘Alright. OK. You can leave it up, but, you’re gonna take it down. I ain’t gonna help. You’re gonna do it yourself.’

“‘Oh, I’ll do it.’

“Ha! Pretty soon, things began to get wild and out-of-hand and he got scared. ‘I’m gonna take it down, now,’ he said.

“‘Yeah, go ahead and take it down,’ I replied. I wouldn’t help him. He and the other guys had a hell of a time taking it down. A little more and they couldn’t have taken it down. Then, we’d be out of control.”[119]

After safely arriving in Santa Monica, Woody and company tried to enter her for the TransPac -- the trans Pacific race from Los Angeles to Hawaii. The entry was not allowed but Waikiki Surf sailed with the fleet of yachts and would have won the race on corrected time by many hours even after having had to reduce speed due to a crack in the port wing section.

After working with Woody on his catamarans, Alfred Kumali and Rudy Choy teamed up with Warren Seaman to take “the ideas of Woody a step farther into commercial building… a bigger and better type of cat,” surfer Gary Howe remembers. “Along with my surfing I raced and sailed on some of those CSK cats and had some of my best and most enjoyable times sailing those boats. I sailed on a 36 foot CSK here in California for many years and I was the driver of that boat much of the time. There are a lot of stories about those old boats and in Surfing for Life Woody talks about Manu Kai the beach cat and there are some scenes in the film of it going along at a pretty good clip.”[120]

“CSK” stood for “Choy, Seaman, Kumali… the designers and builders who actually got the modern catamaran world going back in the old days. Woody Brown was the one who first started it in Hawaii with a modern boat, not the old Hawaiian style of cat… those cats [that Woody and CSK built] under sail surf like mad and often for quite a long time on a good swell.”[121]

While continuing with his catamaran business, Woody returned to gliding in the late 1960s and on into the ‘70s. In 1971, at age 59, he rebuilt a war surplus glider and set a soaring record of 12,675 feet above Mokule‘ia. “I flew all the way around the whole island of O‘ahu,” he told me, saying he’d gotten as high as 23,000 feet, without oxygen, which most people need above 12,000 feet. “I was up above every cloud in the sky, looking down on top of them all! With no motor! Isn’t that amazing? Quite a thrill.”[122]

After setting records for distance, altitude and goal flight during his glider pilot years, Woody eventually sold his glider in the early ‘80s. “I couldn’t take care of it. It was just too much. I’d had enough, anyway; let the young boys have it.”[123]


During his more than fifty years living on the Hawaiian Islands, Woody made his home at least three separate times on the island of Maui.

“Hookipa used to be big waves. I used to get 20-25 foot waves there and slide all the way across that bay. It would break in a big peak on the Kahului side. And it would be a big peak out in the blue water, and you’d catch that and then you could make this wall all the way across, over toward the point. Then, of course, it would fold across inside, but you could pull out before then. Now, since I’ve been here [the third time; since 1987], I haven’t seen that. It’s all just breaking here and there and it’s not a big line like that anymore. It’s all broke down. It’s a lousy surf, now. And I think the reason is because the reef is growing up. In 50 years, it’s bound to grow. It’s shallow everywhere. There’s not a peak; there’s not a point of reef sticking out anymore. All the inner reef where you were going across, where it was deep, now is grown up so it just breaks anywhere across.

“I think that’s what’s happening on the coral islands, here. Now, for instance, Mala Wharf. That’s the best surf on the Lahaina side. That surf there, I’ve rode out there from all the way to the pier and had to pull out at the pier to keep from hitting the pier! Well, nowadays that’s unheard of. Nobody could ever begin to do anything like that because it folds across before you get there.

“Now, we had the tidal wave [from hurricane Iniki, 1990] and all and you still couldn’t make it even in that tidal wave which was over 20 feet high when it came in over there; 25 feet, at least. I was standing in on shore and you couldn’t make ‘em across to the pier.

“But, talk about big, big! I saw the curl go right over that pier and the building that was on top of the pier and the pier’s – what – 15 feet, at least, above the water, and then the building’s another 10 feet on top of that. And this curl went right over the building and the building and pier just disappeared! After that was over, the tidal wave passed, the building was gone and most of the pier. Yet, you still couldn’t make ‘em. See what I mean? The bottom has just changed shape.

“So, the answer is: you gotta look for new places where there’s a new point out somewhere; where it hasn’t grown up like that. But, the old places are all kind of obliterated because the coral’s grown up.

“Like I say, Hookipa used to be a wonderful surf. Oh, my goodness! It had a channel going out and I remember the rip current going out this channel was so fantastic, you didn’t have to paddle, all you had to do was go in front of this channel and, boy, next second you were out there! But, now, there’s hardly any channel. It breaks across the channel and everything.

“I used to have back trouble. My discs or something were collapsed and I’d get paralyzed and couldn’t move. I was out there at Hookipa, alone one day in those big waves, and all of a sudden I couldn’t move! I just couldn’t move! I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what am I gonna do?’ Cuz I couldn’t even paddle! And I laid there on my stomach and gradually I could make my hands move a little bit.

“Hookipa was the first surfing place on the island. They even built lockers for the boys. It’s now a windsurfing place. It’s not so much a surfing place, anymore.” The Hookipa Surfboard Club was founded in 1935 by Teruo Uchimura, the older brother of Woody’s first Maui surfing partner, Don Uchimura.[124] It was the club that got the sheds and lockers built for surfers at Hookipa.

“There’s little tiny waves out here [on Maui]. They just break here and there, now. There’s no shape to ‘em. But, this place [Hookipa], oh, God! I’ve seen this place so big! Well, 40-50-60 feet. From up there on the mountain, I’ve seen blue lines going out into the ocean as far as you could see! You could see these swells going in, these blue swells. So, you know how big that must be! I mean, hell – five miles out you see the swells from the beach. Oh, boy! That’s a hundred, two hundred feet of water they’re breaking in. You couldn’t surf it. You couldn’t live through it. But, it was there. They were black!

“I’ve seen Kahului Harbor – I’ve seen outside the harbor break completely over the breakwater. You couldn’t see the breakwater. And, just black! Black lines! And from the road, there, where it goes by where I am, only a little more up toward the breakwater, you could look out and you’re looking up at ‘em, like this!” Woody paused to lift his head and eyes upward. “And, it looks like they’re just going to come right on in over the land and everything. They’re just black lines. I mean black! Scare the hell out of you. You couldn’t even think of going out.

“And then they wrecked Kahului Harbor [in the 1970s]. That used to be a good surf; 10-12 feet would come in through the edges of the breakwater. Then they narrowed the entrance and built more breakwater. They dredged it out for a bigger turning basin and it just wrecked the surf! It used to be, again, a big peak out in the entrance there. You’d slide all the way left into the bay over toward where I live now.

“I was surfing there, first in ‘41. I remember Don Uchimura was the first surfer, here, and when I came over I met him and we went together and we went out in those big Kahului Harbor waves. They were 10-12 feet waves and you could make every one. Beautiful! And now, oh! Now there’s a shelf. They dredged it so it’s deep right up to the shallow place. The swells come in and they don’t look too big. When they get to this, they just suck out and go over and, boy, you just have to be in the right spot or you get a dirty lickin’! They’re not more than 8 feet, maybe, at the most. You can get some fairly good rides. It’s much better than when they first dredged it; you couldn’t ride at all then; impossible. But, now, I guess this edge has worn down. The action of the sea has rounded it off a little bit and you can ride it, now. I go out there and surf all the time. But, the wind is always there. You have to go real early; 6 o’clock, before the wind comes up.”[125]

Eventually, “Like so many surfers,” wrote Nat Young, Woody “turned to the Bible in later life and found understanding in his personal translations of the holy book.”[126] In 1980, he wrote The Gospel of Love, A Revelation of the Second Coming. In the book, Woody took pride in his approach to life. “I have always had a talent for taking a complicated subject and making it simple,” he wrote.[127]

After spending the day on surfari, surfing and interviewing Woody, I was compelled to point out his essential positivism and asked him about it. “You’ve stayed pretty idealistic over your lifetime. Where do you think you got that from?”

“That’s a good question, isn’t it?” Woody replied. “I’ve seen my past lives, you know. I’ve seen from the way they were – the way I lived them – sets you up for what you are, here, now.

“So, I can understand, now, why I did the things I did in this life, because my character that I made in my previous lives set me up for it. Of course, maybe the experiences are new, but I mean your general attitude to things, you know, the character which you’ve earned in the other lives.

“So, I wasn’t surprised when I began to study and learn about it, why I did what I did or why I wanted to do the things that I did; for instance, flying. See, I was very unhappy as a child because I couldn’t figure out why men wanted to kill each other. I’d ask, ‘Why are there wars? What are people fighting about?’ Nobody could answer, because there’s enough of everything in the world for everybody. Nobody really knew! I couldn’t get any answers, see?

“So, I got really down, because I couldn’t figure out why the hell everybody was fighting. There was enough for everybody! So, I was very unhappy and despondent as a young child. So, I just wanted to get away. I liked the country; way out in the country, away from people, away from civilization. I didn’t like the city. New York City: I hated it! I had to go to school there and I just hated it, there.

“So, after awhile, I realized that it was from my other life that I liked to be up in the sky and get away, cuz I was getting away from the world. Up there, you’re just free. Nothing in the way. No fighting, no hating. Everything is beautiful when you get away up there; especially in the glider, with no motor, no ‘Brute Force and Bloody Ignorance.’

“And surfing the same way! I came to realize that’s why I like surfing, too, cuz I can get away from it all; get out in the ocean where it’s all open and free and you’re working with nature instead of fighting it.

“So, I began to understand these things. And I realized in my other life I was a hell-fire preacher and damned a lot of poor souls to hell fire and that sort of thing. And, then, I was a sea captain, once. Because, how could I take that catamaran out in the ocean. I didn’t know anything about oceans or being a captain like that. Yet, well, we sailed it across the ocean.”

“What other lives do you remember?”

“Well, those two are just the only outstanding ones. I know I was a hell-fire preacher because that’s why now I don’t want to go near churches. I know I’ve had my belly full of that. I have a vague recollection of being in the Philippines before. I have a feeling, a vague kind of a feeling, that I was there on a dirt road and there was royalty there. I was with a king or royalty somehow; just a vague sort of feeling about it, so maybe I was in the Philippines before.

“So, how did I know all those things, unless I’d been through it before?”[128]

In 1986, Woody retired to Maui, but his second wife Rachel died of diabetes soon afterward. Grieving, Woody went to the Philippines. I asked him why he went to the Philippines. “To get me a new wife!” he proudly responded. “Some Philippine people I knew said, ‘Oh, we know this nice family over there. They have a couple of daughters. The daughters don’t want to marry Filipinos, they want to marry Americans. Come over here and what.’ So, they said, ‘We’ll give the name if you want to go over there.’ So, I thought, ‘What the hell, sure, I’ll go over there.’

“And these two girls there, you know how it is, they said, ‘Age don’t matter.’ They were too young! Way too young. But, they said, ‘Aw, age doesn’t make any difference.’ So, I said, ‘Well, if it don’t matter to you, it don’t matter to me!’ But, that’s a mistake because there is that age gap, you know. We think so differently, older people. Younger people, they have so much ambition; keep going every second. Older people get worn out with that! So, there is a block, there; an obstacle. Not such a good idea, that wide an age gap. But, I didn’t know that and neither did she! We had to learn these things.”[129]

When I met Woody at age 82 in 1994, he lived on Maui for the third time in this life, with his third wife Macrene, age 28, and their son, Woodbridge Parker Brown Jr., age 6. The family had lived in Kahului, Maui, since 1987.

Woody was a vegetarian for most all his life. “I never ate meat much, you know. Even when I was a kid at the time, my mother and step father ate meat, but my grandmother formed the Anti-Vivisection Investigation League and passed bills before Congress to prevent doctors from experimenting on animals and stuff. She started associations where they took care of animals and what; preventing cruelty to animals. And so, I was raised with her and she wouldn’t eat meat at all, you see. She wouldn’t kill anything. So, I had the two contrasts, there. And so, I would eat some meat; but then I’d see her and talked with her and saw her point of view. So, after awhile, when I got to age 17, I stopped eating meat altogether. I lived with that all my life.

“But, I would eat meat occasionally. Now, my English wife Betty, on the Mainland... before she died, she was raised as a theosophist. That’s eastern religion brought over here into an American version, sort of. She wouldn’t eat meat. And all her family, they were all fanatics. Her brother’s wife – I’ll never forget – we were all eating a meal and somebody said, ‘Oh, it’s vegetarian, but the gravy’s from a chicken.’ She left the table and puked in the bathroom; that kind of fanaticism [about not eating meat]. I said to my wife, ‘Hey, we’ll eat meat once in awhile just so we don’t get like that.’ So, we’d eat meat once a week.

“When I came to Hawaii, I speared fish and ate fish the way the Hawaiians do. But, then after awhile when I was up in Kula, farming there, I began to see religion more and how we got to learn to stop killing each other and killing every thing. Man just loves to kill everything. And I began to realize, ‘Hey, that thing is suffering just the same as you.’ I don’t want someone killing me. What if a spaceman came down and wanted to roast us? How would you feel? And so the animal feels the same way. It doesn’t want to be roasted in an oven. So, finally, I told my second wife, ‘I’m gonna give up meat completely, even fish.’ And that was hard because, you know, that was the only meat I ate up to that time.
“We’re raised to think we have to have meat to have health. So, it was hard for me to give up the fish. I stuck with it, though, and I still don’t eat fish, today. Maybe that’s not for everybody.”

Woody elaborated on his vegetarianism. “Even if it wasn’t healthy for me, if I could do it to the extent where I wouldn’t die, then ‘I’ll do without it, whether it’s healthy or not.’ That was my attitude. But, then I came to find out that you can be just as healthy without meat. There’s other things you can eat; nuts and beans and all kinds of things that give you protein.”[130]

“When you eat meat you’re eating fear and pain and death,” Woody told Ben Marcus. “I’d rather eat life.”[131]

In 1993, Woody took part in two significant reunions. One was in La Jolla and the other was on O‘ahu. “Yeah, we had a little get-together in Honolulu. Henry [Lum] called them all. He took us all to dinner; to a nice restaurant. Everybody got together – Fran Heath, Wally Froiseth, John Kelly, Russ Takaki, Rabbit Kekai; all the old guys. I hadn’t seen some people in 50 years! Same thing when I went to the Mainland. I hadn’t seen some of ‘em in 50 years.”

Longtime friends and surfers Jack “Woody” Ekstrom and Don Okey made it possible, in 1993, for Woody to make the first extended trip to his old stomping grounds of San Diego for the first time since he left in 1940. Okey and Ekstrom got contributions from north San Diego county surf shops and businesses, along with friends and fans. “All these people doing this for me, I feel real humble,” Woody said in San Diego during the visit. “I’ll never forget this.”[132]

Of Woody during these times of reunion, it was written that “He just skips around like a kid.”[133]

“I notice all the surfers live to a ripe old age,” was Woody’s response.[134]

In 1994, I asked Woody where his favorite surf spots were on Maui. “Oh, well, nowadays I go in the harbor [Kahului]. I’ve got a nice little left wall across there and it hangs up. It just holds up and you think, ‘how can it hold up like that?’ You’re going across, going across. It’s wonderful. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t hold up; it collapses. When it gets too big, you can’t ride there. It breaks all the way across. Up to about 8 feet, why, it’s good; 6-8 feet. Beautiful wave.

Mala Wharf is probably the best one on the south side of the island. There’s a very fast wave. You’re just barely makin’ it all the way. The only trouble is, it’s a real shallow coral inside and you’re tempted. It’s just such a gorgeous curl, you just don’t want to pull out, see, and you get caught. Then, you’re in this water that’s knee-deep, where the wave’s breaking on ya; sharp coral. Oh, boy. But, I’m learning to just pull out; never mind the nice little curl. ‘You’ve had a good ride; get out!’ Cuz, I take such a beating in there. It ain’t worth it.

On this side of the island [north shore], I guess Paukukalo is now about the best. That has a beach and a little way to get out; an open area where you can get out. I like a place where I don’t have to fight my way out through five lines of white water. By the time I get out there under those kind of conditions, I’m so bloody tired, I don’t want to surf!

“Paukukalo. Don and I were the first ones to find that. That’s a bigger surf than Kahului Harbor. See, that’s out in the ocean and gets 10-12 feet. They’re good shape, sometimes. You can make every one. Last time I was there, oh, beautiful shape! I made every one clear into the beach. They were about 10 feet, which is about the most I want right now, you know, because I don’t have the wind to fight that white water. I get sucked in and I can’t get out and I get sucked in on the rocks and I gotta fight the rocks and climb out over them with the board and all that stuff. It’s just not worth it to me. So, I go places where they break and they die off inside; where the water’s deeper. Cunha’s at Waikiki is like that. The board just floats around this deep hole. So, that’s alright. There, I can always paddle out and enjoy myself.”[135]

When Woody and I surfed together, surf was scarce on the Lahaina side, where the wind wasn’t blowing. We found some 2-footers at a beachside park, south of Lahaina. “This little park, it’s pretty nice,” Woody said.  “It’s on the reef, but it’s pretty deep. It’s about 3 feet over the reef, so you can ride in and if you fall, you’re not gonna get hurt.”[136]

It was only during the last decade of his life that Woody got the kind of credit he deserved as one of the foremost of the big wave pioneers. Noteworthy were two U.S. video documentaries: Surfing for Life,(1999) and Of Wind and Waves: the Life of Woody Brown (2006), both produced by David L. Brown (no relation).[137]

The lack of recognition didn’t bother him. “I’ve never really cared what people thought about me, one way or the other,” Woody told Ben Marcus. “I was just interested in doing things. Whether it was flying or sailing or making surfboards, I just always wanted to improve things.”[138]

Woody compared his improvements in surfboards in the early days with what’s out there, today. “What our boards lacked was turning ability. What the new boards have been able to do is achieve turning ability. That was a natural evolution, because, as more people came out to surf, there wasn’t room to go across the curl like that. Here’s a bunch of guys and there’s one guy who’s gonna slide across like that and he’s gonna cut everybody else out. And, if you’re way over there on the end, there’s no wave, hardly. So, you had to catch it over here. And then, everybody else doesn’t have a chance.

“When there’s a thousand guys out, why, you know, they’re all dropping in. There’s no chance. So, obviously, the kind of board you want is the kind of board where you can say, ‘This is my little place and I can ride right here and you can ride right over there.’ It was a natural evolution because of overcrowded conditions.

“I couldn’t ride my big boards at Queens at all, cuz I’d just mow everybody down.

“The big guns, today, they’re more like my boards were, before. When the wave’s 20 feet high, twice as high as this building, man, you just want to get across! You don’t want to get caught in that white water. No way!”[139]

Boards may have improved with steady evolutionary changes, but attitudinal changes toward surfing were often slow in coming. “Surfing didn’t really start to come into a nice attitude to where people respected it, only until the last fifteen years of so! When they started having professional meets and they started giving prizes away, then, surfing became of value. ‘Gee, you got a thousand dollars, that’s great. You’re a great guy, you surfer.’ So, that’s changed.

“It’s only within recent years that surfing’s gotten respect. Years ago, we were looked down upon by everybody. Yet, here were these brave guys going out in 30 foot waves and nobody gave ‘em any credit for that or any respect. ‘You’re just a damn bunch of good for nothing bums.’”[140]

“I have to admit I lived in the best time. I couldn’t have had a better life. I mean, I was very lucky, all the way around. I had flying when it was at its most romantic time, when every flight was an experiment. Then, with the surfing, the same thing; learning to make the Hot Curl boards and riding the big waves and coming into a little respect, you know, with people. I was just lucky. I saw the old Hawaiian people and how they used to live. I got the tail end of the true Hawaii. I’m so thankful and appreciative for that.”[141]

“From all I’ve experienced in life and surfing and religion,” Woody had told Ben Marcus, “there’s one great lesson I’ve learned that I would like to pass on to all surfers today: When you go out surfing, go out there to enjoy it, to share with your fellow man. Not to compete with him, but to share. If you share the joy, the joy is 10 times greater than if you just have it for your own selfish self. That’s how we started out and that’s what I want to bring back.”[142]

In my case, Woody left me with two last thoughts: one was ecological. “Boy, look at the cars on this poor little island, where there used to be one car all day! Hard to believe, isn’t it? And, it’s getting worse! The last two, three years I’ve been here, it’s nearly doubled. Unreal!

“We’re destroying the world by polluting the water, the ocean, the sky and air, and cutting the forests down so there’s no rain, just floods,” Woody said. “Pretty soon, it’ll be a desert; the world. It’ll take time. It won’t be a sudden thing, but, gee, we’re wrecking everything, everywhere. If we keep going like this, why we’re going to make a desert of the world.”[143]

The second message was to read his book, The Gospel of Love and let him know what I thought about it. “You’ve got to have faith in some thing,” Woody advised, adding in his animated way, “We gradually learn as we go through life. Boy, I hope I’m learning! I don’t want to come back here anymore. I’ve had enough of this.

“I’ve hopefully learned what I came here for, so I don’t have to come back here anymore. Once you’ve learned what you’re here for – what your mission is – once you’ve accomplished that mission, there’s no need to come back here. You can stay in the spirit world.”[144]

Woody passed on, in 2008, aged 96.

Come ride the waves, the surf is high,
and hear the song the surfers cry.

Slide out on the shoulder and finish the ride,
Your heart’s on fire, your soul’s filled with pride.

Taste the salt, the stinging spray,
Know the price a surfer must pay. [145]

Woody and I talkin' story in Pa'ia, 1994

[1] Marcus, Ben. “Woody Brown: ‘I’d Rather Eat Life,’” Surfer, Vol. 34, No. 11, November 1993, p. 58.
[2] Marcus, Ben, 1993, pp. 58-59.
[3] Young, Nat. History of Surfing, ©1983, Palm Beach Press, 40 Ocean Road, Palm Beach, N.S.W. 2108, Australia, p. 60.
[4] Marcus, 1993, p. 59.
[6] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[7] Most sources have Woody first in La Jolla in 1936, but he recalled for me that it was 1935.
[8] Tash, Joe. “Surfer, 81, Riding Wave of Enthusiasm,” San Diego Union-Tribune, November 1993, p. B-9.
[9] Woody said he was 100 feet above the mountain ridge when the collision took place.
[10] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994. Woody said they were still on the towline when this happened, approximately 200 feet above ground.
[11] Stecyk, Craig and Pezman, Steve. “Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 3, Number 4, Winter 1994, ©1994, p. 75.
[12] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[13] Marcus, 1993, p. 60. In reality, though, San Diego surfing started with George Freeth in 1915. See Gault-Williams, “George Freeth: Bronzed Mercury,” ©2013.
[14] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[15] Marcus, 1993, p. 60.
[16] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[17] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[18] Marcus, 1993, p. 60.
[19] Young, 1983, p. 60.
[20] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[21] Young, 1983, p. 60.
[22] Marcus, 1993, p. 60.
[23] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[24] Marcus, 1993, p. 60.
[25] Woody believed his grandfather saw to the disposal of his La Jolla property.
[26] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[27] Marcus, 1993, pp. 60-61.
[28] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[29] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[30] Stecyk and Pezman, 1994, p. 75.
[31] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[32] Froiseth, Wally. Notations/corrections to draft, May 25, 1996, p. 14.
[33] Finney and Houston identified four locations on the North Shore of O`ahu: Pekue, Mokule`ia; Pua-’ena, Waialua; Waimea, Waimea River Mouth; and Pau Malu, Pau Malu Bay, aka Sunset Beach. See Finney and Houston, 1966, pp. 28-29.
[34] Kala-hue-wehe is an old Hawaiian word for the surf breaks off Waikiki. Tom Blake used this word a lot. Woody confirmed its meaning.
[35] Patterson, Otto B. Surf-riding, Its Thrills and Techniques, ©1960, C.E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont, p. 123. See also Finney and Houston, pp. 38-39.
[36] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[37] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[38] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[39] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994. According to Tom Blake’s written descriptions, Duke’s board was not quite that long, nor that heavy.
[40] Marcus, 1993, p. 61. Ben has Woody saying the board was 70 pounds.
[41] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[42] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[43] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[44] Young, 1983, p. 60.
[45] Stecyk and Pezman, 1994, p. 75.
[46] That is, the beginning of the Twentieth Century on into the Twenty-first.
[47] Gault-Williams. Interview with Fran Heath, April 2, 1996. See also Gault-Williams, “Fran Heath: The Forgotten Hot Curler,” Longboard, Volume 5, Number 1, March/April 1997.
[48] Gault-Williams. Interview with Fran Heath, April 2, 1996. See also Gault-Williams, “Fran Heath: The Forgotten Hot Curler,” Longboard, Volume 5, Number 1, March/April 1997.
[49] Gault-Williams. Interview with Fran Heath, April 2, 1996. See also Gault-Williams, “Fran Heath: The Forgotten Hot Curler,” Longboard, Volume 5, Number 1, March/April 1997.
[50] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[51] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 38.
[52] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996. Wally offered 1938 as the date since he was still in high school. This was verified by Fran Heath, who had the original receipt for the board that became the first hot curl. See also “Gene ‘Tarzan’ Smith” chapter in LEGENDARY SURFERS Volume 3: The 1930s, ©2012.
[53] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[54] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[55] Stecyk and Pezman, “Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story,” 1994, p. 72.
[56] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[57] Jenkins, Bruce. “The Death of Dickie Cross,” Surfer magazine, October 1993, p. 53 & 87.
[58] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[59] Jenkins, 1993, p. 53 & 87.
[60] Young, 1983, p. 60.
[61] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[62] Surfer magazine, Vol. 33, No. 12.
[63] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[64] Jenkins, 1993, p. 53 & 87.
[65] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[66] Jenkins, 1993, p. 53 & 87.
[67] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[68] Jenkins, 1993, p. 53 & 87.
[69] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[70] Young, 1983, p. 60.
[71] Jenkins, 1993, p. 53 & 87.
[72] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[73] Jenkins, 1993, p. 53 & 87.
[74] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[75] Marcus, 1993, p. 61.
[76] Surfer, October 1993, p. 87.
[77] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “Fran Heath: The Forgotten Hot Curler,” Longboard, Volume 5, Number 1, March/April 1997, p. 36. Based on the interview with Fran Heath, April 2, 1996.
[78] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[79] Gault-Williams, “Fran Heath: The Forgotten Hot Curler,” Longboard, 1997, p. 37.
[80] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[81]  Nana-kuli, Wai`anae, O`ahu.  Lit., look at knee (said to be named in honor of the tattooed knee of Ka`opulupulu, a priest whose chief, Ka-hahana, turned a deaf [kuli] ear to his advise, and, when asked about his knee, told of his relationship with the chief, thus rebuking him); or look deaf (said because people in the area had not enough food to offer passersby; hence they looked at them and pretended to be deaf.
[82]  Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996. Wally has that famous picture of him, Russ Takaki, Roy Folk and Rabbit Kekai, taken “before anybody was going Makaha. Nobody was going Makaha at that time.” 1936 Ford Phaeton featured. “That Australian kid,” Nat Young used the picture in his book.
[83]  Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[84] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[85] Gault-Williams, “Woody Brown: Pilot, Surfer, Sailor,” The Surfer’s Journal, 1996. See also aerial picture of Henry, Wally, Buzzy and Woody at Makaha, Winter 1953 in Hoffman, 1993, p. 92.
[86] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[87] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[88] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[89] Gault-Williams, “Fran Heath: The Forgotten Hot Curler,” Longboard, 1997, p. 37.
[90] Stecyk Craig and Pezman, Steve. “Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 3, Number 4, Winter 1994, p. 72.
[91] Stecyk and Pezman, “Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story,” 1994, p. 72.
[92] Stecyk and Pezman, 1994, p. 68.
[93] Duke Kahanamoku named Papa Nui. See Blake, Hawaiian Surfboard, 1935.
[94] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[95] Marcus, 1993, p. 99.
[96] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Russ Takaki, March 16, 1997.
[97] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[98] Browne, Bud. Surfing The 50’s, a videotape collection of the best of his 1950s surf films, ©1994. Peter Cole narration.
[99] Hoffman, 1993, p. 95. See photo of Woody with pilot’s sunglasses on.
[100] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[101] Marcus, 1993, p. 99.
[103] Shikina, Robert. “Waterman Blazed Trail to Waves of North Shore,” Star Bulletin, Vol. 13, Issue 111, Sunday, April 20, 2008.
[104] Gault-Williams. Interview with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[105] Tash, 1993, p. B-9.
[106] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22, 1994.
[107] Marcus, 1993, p. 61, has Woody going to Christmas Island in 1943, but this is doubtful, due to visa/passport restrictions during the war. See also Young, p. 60, who has Woody going to Christmas Island after the war. John Kelly, in Bud Browne’s Surfing The 50’s, mentioned Rudy Choy as another of Woody’s catamaran contemporaries.
[108] Stecyk and Pezman, 1994, p. 75.
[109] Stecyk and Pezman, 1994, p. 75.
[110] Marcus, 1993, p. 61 and 99.
[112] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woody_Brown_(surfer) viewed December 22, 2015. A design patent is different from a utility patent. See also American Catamarans ©1957, at http://www.ayrs.org/repository/AYRS010.pdf which has some great diagrams of the Manu Kai and history of catamarans, in general.
[113] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[114] Marcus, 1993, p. 99.
[115] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[116] American Catamarans ©1957, at http://www.ayrs.org/repository/AYRS010.pdf, p. 27. In previous writings about Woody, I have this date as being in 1957, not 1955.
[117] Young, 1983, p. 60.
[118] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[119] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[120] Email from Gary Howe, November 28, 2003
[121] Email from Gary Howe, November 29, 2003. Note various spellings for Kumali depending on source info.
[122] Woody told me that gliders had a glide angle of 20:1 when he began flying. He improved his gliders’ angle to 30:1. Today, Woody said, gliders have gliding angles of 50:1.
[123] Goal flight: “That is, you say before you take off, you tell ‘em where you’re gonna land. You have to go to that particular spot and land there,” Woody said. “I flew ‘em further than anyone in the world had ever.”
[124] Surfer, Volume 36, Number 1, January 1995, “People Who Surf” column, featuring “Don Uchimura, 75, Maui, Hawaii,” by Gary Stellern, p. 110.
[125] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[126] Young, 1983, p. 60.
[127] Marcus, 1993, p. 58 and 99.
[128] About the Philipine previous life, Woody felt it in 1986-87, when he was in the Philippines. “That’s how I got the wife I got.”
[129] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[130] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[131] Marcus, 1993, p. 58.
[132] Tash, 1993, p. B-1 and B-9.
[133] Tash, 1993, p. B-9.
[134]  Tash, 1993, p. B-9.
[135] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[136] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[138] Marcus, 1993, p. 99.
[139] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[140] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[141] Gault-Williams. Interviews with Woody Brown, November 22,1994.
[142] Marcus, 1993, p. 60.
[143] Woody referenced the Sahara desert that is such due to man’s negative impact on the fragile ecology of North Africa.
[144] Woody has since written two more books of biblical interpretations, unpublished.
[145] Blake, Thomas E. Hawaiian Surfing: The Ancient and Royal Pastime, ©1961, Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona. Poetry attributed to “W. Brown.” Woody confirmed to me that  it was his (interviews, November 1994). He also added: “Yeah, I’m gettin’ ya all jazzed up, here, talkin’ like this and then we can’t go and do anything!” Woody had a very animated way of talking. On a Pa‘ia porch, Woody referred to the tales of big wave riding his was spinning for me, after we surfed two foot mushers on Maui’s south side. “That’s a dirty trick! That’s what I call a mean, nasty trick!

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